A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

measles virus

Measles FAQs for Parents

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that’s causing outbreaks in several areas of the country. We’ve covered the basics about measles infection and prevention in a previous post. Here are answers to frequently asked questions many parents have.

Is my child protected?

It takes just 2 doses of the MMR vaccine to protect your child. To be sure your child is up to date, check with your pediatrician.

The vaccine is safe and very effective: 2 doses provide life-long immunity for 98 percent of vaccinated people. Here are the doses for the vaccine:

  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age.
  • The second dose 4 through 6 years of age

If your family is traveling overseas or to an area with an active outbreak, the vaccine recommendations are a little different:

  • If your baby is 6 through 11 months old, they should receive 1 dose of the MMR vaccine before leaving.
  • If your child is 12 months of age or older, they will need 2 doses of the MMR vaccine (separated by at least 28 days) before departure.

Why aren’t babies under the age of 1 routinely vaccinated?

Until the age of 6 months, a baby is protected in large part by immunity passed on from their mother (if she was vaccinated or previously had the disease) when she was pregnant. As that immunity decreases, studies have shown the vaccine is most effective if given beginning at 12 months.

Until then, you should:

  • Protect your baby by frequent hand washing.
  • Ask everyone who holds your baby to wash their hands.
  • Avoid crowds and people who are ill, particularly if they’re coughing.
  • Be certain that anyone who cares for your baby is up to date on their vaccines – especially for MMR, pertussis, and influenza.

It’s best to avoid travel to areas affected by measles with a baby under the age of 1. If you’re traveling out of the country or to an area with an active measles outbreak with a baby 6 to 11 months old:

  • They need an MMR vaccine.
  • They’ll also need to get it again at age 12 months.

How is measles treated?

There is no treatment for measles. It’s a virus, so antibiotics don’t help and there’s no antiviral medicine that fights it off.
Most people with measles are cared for at home. Home care includes rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain. Do not give aspirin to children – it’s not safe.

About 1 out of 4 infected people need hospitalization – most commonly babies and the elderly.

My child didn’t get the MMR vaccine. Are they at risk of measles?

Yes. Your child can become sick if exposed to the virus – in fact, it’s such a contagious illness that 9 out of 10 unimmunized people will get sick if exposed. Unvaccinated children exposed to measles need to be isolated at home for a prolonged period. This can be stressful and require time off from work and school.
Because a safe, effective vaccine is available, most families choose to get their child vaccinated and protected as soon as possible – just call your pediatrician’s office or stop by to receive the vaccine today.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

Anyone who has not received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine:

  • Babies under 12 months old, who are too young to get the MMR vaccine.
  • Children and teens who have not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine (because they’re behind schedule, or parents/guardians declined the vaccine).
  • Adults who are not up-to-date on vaccinations (and not already immune).

Who is safe if exposed to measles?

These people have the best protection:

  • Children, teens, or adults who had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine.
  •  Adults born before 1957 because it’s assumed they had the disease back then– it was that common – and then developed immunity.
  • Children or teens who had measles.

Is there anything different to know for pregnancy?

Most women of child-bearing age have already been immunized and are protected – and pass that protection on to their newborn. If an unimmunized woman gets pregnant, she cannot be safely vaccinated until after delivery. If she becomes infected while pregnant:

  • She’s at risk for illness.
  •  The baby is at risk for premature delivery and low birth weight.

If you haven’t been immunized and are planning a pregnancy, talk with your doctor – you’ll need the vaccine at least 3 months before conception. If you’re unsure of your vaccination status or can’t find your vaccination records, you should have an MMR vaccine. Getting an extra dose is safe.

What about grandparents?

People born before 1957 are assumed to be immune because back then the disease was so widespread. Younger grandparents should check with their doctors to confirm their vaccination status – and if in doubt, get an MMR vaccine.

What about child care?

Babies and young children in child care are exposed to many viruses! Before choosing a child care facility, ask if all children present are required to be vaccinated. If they don’t require vaccine records of attending children, don’t use that child care.

Find more resources for parents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

American Academy of Pediatrics:
Protecting Your Baby from a Measles Outbreak FAQs
How to Protect Your Children During a Measles Outbreak

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