Measles outbreaks: Is the vaccine good for life or do you need a booster?

(NEXSTAR) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning Monday over the increase in measles outbreaks as the highly contagious virus spreads in the U.S. and abroad.

The majority of recent cases have been linked to international travel. Austria, the Philippines, Romania, and the United Kingdom are among the locations experiencing outbreaks, the CDC said.

While measles is most dangerous for young children and pregnant women, the CDC warns everyone – especially those planning international travel of any kind – should get vaccinated to prevent the virus' spread.

How effective is the vaccine? Who can get it?

Measles is extremely contagious. "One person infected with measles can infect 9 out of 10 unvaccinated individuals with whom they come in close contact," the CDC warns.

But the MMR vaccine – which stands for measles, mumps and rubella – works well. Two doses have proven 97% effective at preventing measles infection when someone is exposed. One dose goes a long way on its own; that's 93% effective.

Most people get the vaccine as a child. The first dose can be given after 12 months of age, and the second dose is recommended between 4 and 6 years old.

Teenagers or adults who didn't get the vaccine when they were younger can do so later in life.

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Are you fully vaccinated?

The CDC considers you protected from measles if:

You got two doses of the vaccine You received only one dose, but you're either a preschool aged child (so you're not recommended to get the second dose yet) or an adult who is not in a high-risk setting A laboratory confirmed you've had measles in your life, or confirmed you are immune to measles You were born before 1957

Do you need a booster?

Once you're fully vaccinated, you don't need a booster shot, according to the vaccination schedule in the U.S. The two doses work for life, according to the CDC.

If you're not sure if you were fully vaccinated as a child, you should talk to your health care provider, the agency says. If you can't track down your vaccination records, and you're not sure if you're immune, you may want to get another dose.

"There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella)," the CDC says. "Another option is to have a healthcare provider test your blood to determine whether you’re immune, but this is generally not recommended."

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How bad is the current outbreak?

The CDC said it has been notified of 58 confirmed cases in the U.S. so far in 2024. Those cases span 17 jurisdictions.

That may not sound like much, but it already tops 2023's grand total of measles cases. Last year, the CDC said there were 58 cases all year.

More than 90% of the cases so far this year have been linked to travel.

In serious cases, measles can require ventilation or lead to death, said Dr. Julia Retureta, at HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital. Babies under 12 months are at highest risk of complications, but adults and the elderly can also get very sick from it.

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