The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States is cautioning Americans to ensure measles vaccination before international travel this summer. The agency issued a health advisory emphasizing the importance of receiving two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at least two weeks prior to visiting areas of the world experiencing active measles outbreaks.
Significance of the measles vaccination
According to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine provide 97% protection against the virus. However, individuals who have not been vaccinated are at an extremely high risk of falling ill even with brief exposure. The agency warns that a person can contract measles by simply being in a room where an infected individual has been, even up to two hours after that person has left.
It is recommended that children receive their first MMR vaccine dose between 12 and 15 months of age, with the second dose administered around the time they start kindergarten, at ages 4, 5, or 6. Teens and adults who have not previously received the vaccine should receive two doses, spaced at least 28 days apart.
Concerns of Rising Cases
Recent data suggests that measles cases in the United States are rising once again after a decline during the COVID-19 lockdown. The CDC reported that as of June 8, there had been 16 reported cases in 2023 compared to three cases during the same period in 2022. A significant 88% of these cases were linked to international travel, and the majority of the patients had not been vaccinated.
The need for measles vaccination is underscored by recent incidents, such as two confirmed cases of measles in California’s Fresno County. Health officials have yet to determine how the infected individuals contracted the virus. Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s health officer, stressed the importance of measles vaccination in protecting the community and urged parents to ensure their children are up-to-date on measles vaccination.
Not just limited to the U.S.
Measles outbreaks are not limited to the United States, as other parts of the world are also experiencing an increase in cases. The CDC highlighted new outbreaks in countries like India, Indonesia, the Middle East, and various African nations. In the United Kingdom, there have been 49 cases of measles reported since the beginning of this year, compared to 54 cases in the entirety of last year.
During the pandemic, vaccination rates declined, leading to pockets of vulnerability. In 2021, a joint report by the CDC and the World Health Organization revealed that 40 million children missed at least one dose of the measles vaccine, marking a record high. Measles vaccination rates of 95% are necessary within a community to effectively prevent measles outbreaks.
Steps to take before International Travels
The CDC advisory urges individuals to consult with their healthcare provider several weeks before international travel, regardless of the destination, to determine if the MMR vaccine is needed. Measles has no specific antiviral treatment, and its symptoms typically include high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and a characteristic rash appearing within the first week of illness. Infants and young children face the highest risk of severe complications, including brain swelling and death, while pregnant women infected with measles are at risk of premature birth and delivering low-birth-weight babies.