Measles has been in the news a lot lately, from a recent New York City public health order requiring mandatory vaccinations in an attempt to stop a measles outbreak in Brooklyn that is (inevitably) being challenged in court, to reports of cases of measles in various places in the U.S., to scary outbreaks in other parts of the world like Europe and the Philippines.
Although measles is typically viewed as a childhood disease, getting it as an adult can be serious business. And, because measles is a highly contagious condition that can be readily communicated from one person to another through airborne droplets sneezed and coughed out by random strangers in public places — like airport terminals — it’s a concern for people who do a lot of traveling. Health care officials uniformly identify vaccination as the best defense against contracting a case of measles. But what should you do if, like me, you got that painful measles shot in the arm or the butt when you were a kid long ago, and your childhood vaccination and immunization records are God knows where? Do we all need to get another shot?
Here’s some good news: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you received the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) shot that every kid of my generation got as a matter of course, you’re in good shape. The CDC says that the measles component of the vaccine provides lifelong protection at 93 percent efficiency even if, like me, you got your shot more than 50 years ago. And if you were born before 1957, you don’t need to worry about the measles, either, because the vast majority of people living in the pre-1957 world were exposed to measles as kids and have natural immunity to the disease as a result.
It’s weird to think that, in the 21st century, Americans should be worrying about diseases like measles that can be readily controlled by vaccination, but that’s what happens when parents start getting lax about vaccinating their kids — or believing quacks who raise unproven claims about side effects of vaccination. If you’re not sure about whether you’ve been vaccinated, you really should talk to your doctor. When it comes to communicable diseases, we’re all in this together.