More on Measles — Tacoma Doctor Answers Questions

With all the reports about measles being on the rise in Washington state and beyond, we connected with Dr. Nathan Schlicher at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma to learn more about the disease and what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.

Can people who have been fully vaccinated still get measles, and what is the risk?

If an individual is fully vaccinated for measles, they are very unlikely to still get measles. According to the CDC, About three out of 100 people who get two doses of the MMR vaccine will get measles if exposed to the virus. However, they are more likely to have a milder illness, and are also less likely to spread the disease to others.

Adults – are their measles vaccines as kids still effective?

If an adult was fully vaccinated as a child, the vaccination is still effective as they age.

What if you aren’t sure if you were fully vaccinated as a kid, is it OK to get vaccinated later just in case?  

If you are unsure whether or not you were fully vaccinated as a kid, it is okay to get vaccinated at an older age to ensure you are protected.

 Who is at the most risk of contracting the measles?

People at high risk for severe illness and complications from measles include:

  • Infants and children aged <5 years
  • Adults aged >20 years
  • Pregnant women
  • People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia and HIV

What are some symptoms?

Measles symptoms appear around 10 to 14 days after being exposed to the virus. Symptoms typically include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek — also called Koplik’s spots
  • A skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that often flow into one another

If you think you or a loved one may have measles, what do you do next?

  • If someone suspects they have contracted measles, they should contact their primary care provider and make an appointment.
  • They should not go to an emergency room because they could put other patients in danger of contracting measles. 

Why are measles dangerous?

  • Measles is dangerous because it is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult. Then, when someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where other people can inhale them.
  • Measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. While death rates have been falling worldwide as more children receive the measles vaccine, the disease still kills more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of five.

In addition to getting vaccinated, how (or can?) people reduce their risk?

  • Vaccination is the only way to prevent measles. For individuals who are unable to get vaccinated due to other health risks, we encourage close family members and friends to get vaccinated to lower their risk of contracting measles and bringing it around the individual that cannot be vaccinated.

What else should the readers know about measles from your professional opinion?

  • There is no specific antiviral therapy for measles, which means that there is no cure for the virus once you contract it. Severe measles cases, such as in those who are hospitalized, should be treated with Vitamin A to help with their symptoms. However, vaccinations are the only options available to stay measles free.
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