Employee & Community Health

Measles outbreaks: What they mean to you & your family

4/4/2019 by Dr. Robert M. Jacobson

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So far this year, 465 people in the U.S. have come down with the measles, according to the federal government. These illnesses are the result of six outbreaks in 10 states. Two outbreaks have been going on since 2018. 

Outbreaks like these affect all of us. Not only can measles be miserable for those suffering from them, they also can be fatal and lead to complications lasting months to a lifetime. These outbreaks are expensive because: 

  • Up to one third of patients with measles require hospitalization and others may need ongoing health care. 
  • Measles is the most contagious disease known. How contagious? If you aren't immune to measles and are in the same room as a person with measles, you have a 90% chance of developing the illness. After a person with measles leaves the room, the air remains infected and contagious for two hours. So we spend a lot of money limiting outbreaks. This calls for tracking down every individual exposed to that infected person, as well as finding the person who gave that person measles. The cost averages $20,000 for each individual with measles, not counting the cost of caring for the ill individual. 

What can you do about these outbreaks? Make sure you and the members of your family are immune to measles. What counts as immune varies depending on the person's age and occupation. 

  • Written documentation of adequate vaccination: one or more doses of a measles-containing vaccine administered on or after the first birthday for preschool-age children and adults not at high risk
  • Written documentation of two doses of measles-containing vaccine for school-age children and adults at high risk, including college students, health care personnel and international travelers
  • Laboratory evidence of immunity
  • Laboratory confirmation of measles
  • Born before 1957

If you can't find the vaccine records, repeat the vaccines. Repeat doses pose no harm. Don't just assume you and your family members are immune. It's dangerous to make assumptions when an exposure to measles is just a plane ride away. 

Dr. Robert M. Jacobson is a primary care pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) and is the medical director of ECH and Southeast Minnesota Immunization Programs.