What the Measles Outbreak Means for Adults: Are You Immune?

getting a vaccineYou would have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the current measles outbreak. And while babies who have yet to get their first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine are particularly at risk, plenty of adults -- parents or not -- are understandably unnerved by what the news may mean for their health, too. After all, more than 62 percent of the measles cases in California are among grown-ups. So, how can adults know if they're protected or not against the disease?


"[While] younger infants are at higher risk of getting more serious complications of measles, measles can affect any age group," notes Nadia Qureshi, MD, an infection control specialist at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Illinois. "Any adult who doesn't have lab evidence of immunity or written documented evidence of vaccination is at risk."

More from The Stir: Measles Vaccines & Pregnancy: What Moms-to-Be Need to Know

In short, if you were born after 1957 and had the recommend two-shot, live (not killed, which was available in the mid-'60s and wasn't effective) vaccine series -- the first at around 12 months old and the second generally between 4 to 6 years old or before entering kindergarten -- as a kid, you're good to go. Yes, even if you're around people who are infected.

"The measles virus is very stable and does not mutate," explains Jorge Parada, MD, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of the Infection Prevention and Control program at Loyola. "Therefore, once an individual completes the two-shot vaccine series, he or she will have a lifetime of protection."

Adults born before 1957 in the US are considered immune, too, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That's because they lived through several years of epidemic measles before the first vaccine was licensed, and most likely had the disease. And after your body has fought off the disease, the "prize" is life-long immunity.

Of course, you may not be sure which type of measles vaccine you got -- or whether you got it at all. "If you're not sure if you were vaccinated, you can go to the doctor and get a simple lab test which can show [immunity via] measles antibodies," says Dr. Qureshi.

If the test doesn't show measles antibodies, getting the shot again won't hurt -- and is what doctors and the CDC say is the best bet for protecting yourself and others.

"A young adult may have a healthy immune system and get a very mild version of an infectious disease, but the oldest and youngest, or someone with a chronic disease who is immunocompromised, or pregnant are at much greater risk for severe infection and complications," Dr. Parada says. "If you won’t get vaccinated for yourself, do it for your grandparents or for your baby niece or just for the greater good of society."

You can easily search on Vaccines.gov to find your nearest provider.

Are you sure about your own immunity to measles?


Image via iStock.com/Buenaventuramariano

Read More >