If you haven’t heard — have you been living under a rock? — there’s a roaring measles outbreak with upward of 700 confirmed cases in 22 states.
It’s a list that seemingly grows every time I open The New York Times or NPR’s website.
The CDC has attributed the outbreak of this once-extinct disease to skepticism of vaccines, a camp labeled “anti-vaxxers” that have used social media to proliferate their message.
As Dr. Mark Gendreau, Chief Medical Officer at Addison Gilbert and Beverly Hospitals, explained in another Healthy State article last week, measles spreads quickly because the virus lingers in the air.
An exposed person may cough or sneeze and virus particles could hang around for hours until a gust of air pushes them away. What’s called the “attack rate” is high for measles — between 92 and 94 percent — and this means if you don’t have proper immunity you’re almost assured to get the disease.
I severely detest shots and will do pretty much anything to avoid getting one. But once I started at Lahey I had a blood screening, as required by all our hospital employees.
When Lahey’s Employee Health called to say I needed an MMR booster I was flummoxed. The last time I got an MMR booster was in 2007, right before I went to India. I had the vaccine as a child and again before I went to college.
Alas, there were no measles antibodies found in my blood despite having sufficient immunity to mumps and rubella.
This would mean I’d be getting a fourth MMR vaccine. Plus, I needed a follow-up shot because that’s how susceptible I was. And I was completely unaware of this!
Yet, there is no harm in getting a third or fourth booster, Dr. Gendreau told me.
If you’re wondering if you should get a booster, the CDC has a helpful guide, as does The New York Times.
Health care workers should know if they have immunity and get the shot if necessary. The list also includes international travelers — a cruise ship was quarantined in the Caribbean last week because a passenger tested positive for measles — and children, college students and women of childbearing age.
“The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States,” the CDC said in recent a statement.
Because there are certain groups of people who should not get vaccinated (think pregnant women) it’s worth talking to your doctor before worrying about your next shot.