Everything You Need To Know About Measles, & The Current Outbreak

Photographed by Megan Madden.
In case you missed it, there's a pretty large measles outbreak happening in the United States right now. To date, the Centers for Disease Control has reported 695 cases in 22 states. To put that in perspective, this is the largest number of cases reported in the United States since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Experts anticipate that these numbers will trump the large outbreak that occurred in 2014.
The outbreaks you’ve likely heard about in the news are happening in New York state, specifically New York City, Washington, New Jersey, California, and Michigan, according to the CDC. On Thursday, more than 200 students at UCLA were quarantined after an outbreak was declared in Los Angeles County. In early April, a public health emergency was announced in New York City, urging unvaccinated people in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to get the measles vaccine. In certain neighborhoods, the New York City Health Department could fine parents $1,000 if their unvaccinated children are exposed to the infection.
In a press release Thursday, CDC director Robert Redfield called the outbreak "deeply troubling." Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing, is highly infectious, and can lead to serious health complications, such as brain swelling and damage. One or two out of 1,000 people with measles will die, so it's absolutely worth taking seriously. Here's what you need to know about the latest outbreak:

How did these outbreaks start?

These recent outbreaks can be traced back to people who traveled to countries where large outbreaks have already been happening, such as Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines, according to the CDC. When someone who hasn't received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine visits a country where measles is widespread, then returns to the States, they can spread it to other people who haven't been vaccinated. In this case, there's been a lot of misinformation about the safety of vaccines spread throughout certain communities, which is likely contributing to the number of cases.

At what age do most people get the measles vaccine?

If you're wondering whether or not you had the MMR vaccine, it's a good idea to find and check your vaccination records, because most people get it when they're young babies and kids. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are typically administered: one when you're 12 to 15 months old, and the next when you're four or six years old, per the CDC. If you can't find your immunization records, the CDC suggests getting a dose of the MMR vaccine as an adult.

How long does measles vaccine last?

It's unclear exactly how long the MMR vaccine lasts, but it definitely does wear off over time, Stephen Morse, PhD, professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center who specializes in infectious disease outbreaks, told Refinery29. "In general, the immunity usually is pretty good, and especially when we give it after the second time, and [the vaccine is] probably lifelong for most people," he said. "We do know there are going to be exceptions."

Do you need a MMR booster?

If you had two doses of the MMR vaccine as a kid, or one dose as an adult, then the CDC says you're good to go without a booster. However, it's important for adults in "high-risk" settings, such as healthcare providers and international travelers, to have two doses of the vaccine, the organization says. So, yet another reason why you should track down your vaccination records or get in touch with your healthcare provider.

Should you be concerned if you live in New York or California?

Again, it's most important that you know what your vaccination status is. If you live in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, where communities are particularly affected, and aren't sure what steps you should take, talk to your healthcare provider.

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