The United States is experiencing its second-highest number of measles cases since it was eliminated in 2000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 465 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 19 states since Jan. 1. The disease is spreading in U.S. communities that have relatively high numbers of people who have not been vaccinated against measles. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about measles, which can cause serious complications among all age groups, especially young children.
Know how the virus is spread and the symptoms: Highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It’s spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat followed by body rash. Measles can be spread before developing symptoms, from four days before a rash develops to four days after. Measles can be serious and cause brain damage or death.
Check your shot records: Prevention is the best method to avoid getting the virus during an outbreak. Get a hold of your childhood shot records to verify you had two doses (first dose at 12 to 15 months of age, second dose before entering school between 4 to 6 years old). If you cannot get ahold of shot records, ask your doctor about a blood test that can detect if you have protection against measles or not. The blood test is called a titer and costs $42 at the Aggie Health and Wellness Center. If you have not been vaccinated, the AHWC offers the vaccine for $110 each shot (two-dose series). Now is the best time to get vaccinated since there are no current outbreaks in New Mexico. You need at least two-four weeks after vaccination for your body to develop antibodies (to protect you) from the virus. Getting vaccinated during an outbreak can still put you at risk since your body needs time to develop protection.
Keep up to date on the current outbreak: Check the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html to see which states have current outbreaks especially if you travel.
Have a plan: If you live in the dorms with a roommate, plan where to go in the event you or your roommate develops symptoms. Call or see your doctor, AHWC or the health department if you believe you may have the virus. Avoid travel to areas with outbreaks if possible.
Hygiene: Wash hands frequently and cover your cough. Wear a mask when traveling to areas with outbreaks and avoid crowded areas. If you develop symptoms, avoid public places and go to the doctor.