What Seniors Need to Know about the Measles Outbreak

 

Last updated 5/2/2024 at 11:28am | View PDF

Health officials are on high alert as measles outbreaks have been reported in multiple states in the U.S. and cases are rising globally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert on March 18 to draw attention to the global spread of measles ahead of the spring and summer travel season.

The American Medical Association (AMA) echoed the CDC's warning, emphasizing the importance of vaccination to prevent the spread of measles. AMA President Dr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld urged individuals to get vaccinated prior to any travel if they are not already immune.

Measles, which had been declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, has resurfaced due to low vaccination rates. While vaccinated individuals are unlikely to contract measles, unvaccinated people and high-risk groups such as children too young to be vaccinated, cancer patients, and immunocompromised individuals are at risk for infection and severe illness.

Health officials are urging vaccination against measles to prevent further outbreaks and protect public health. The CDC and AMA are reminding doctors to educate patients about the importance of vaccination and to make strong recommendations for following immunization schedules.

Maintaining high vaccination rates is crucial to prevent the resurgence of measles and protect vulnerable populations from the disease.

Measles Rare in South Valley

"No cases of measles have been reported in Kings County," said Kings County Health Officer Dr. Milton Teske in early April. "So far this year, there have been only four reported cases of measles in California."

"The last case of measles in Tulare County was in March 2016 in an 18-month-old child," said Deputy Tulare County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Overton. "This has been the only case of measles in Tulare County within the last 10 years."

Measles and Seniors

"Measles poses a significant risk for seniors," said Dr. Overton. "Their weakened immune systems make them more susceptible to complications like pneumonia, encephalitis (brain inflammation), and even death. The risk of hospitalization is also much higher compared to younger individuals."

"Measles is a very infectious airborne virus that infects primarily babies and children," said Dr. Teske. "For adults and seniors, infections are rare but still possible. Serious complications, pneumonia and encephalitis, can occur in those who are immunocompromised – HIV, leukemia, diabetes, dialysis, immunosuppressive medications, etc. – or in poor general health due to lifestyle or other chronic diseases."

On the positive side, most adults born in the United States before 1957 likely had measles as children and developed immunity.

"The measles virus – unlike COVID or influenza – is very stable without significant mutations causing an escape from immunity," Teske said. "So if your immune system is working normally, the memory T-cells from your childhood infection would still be able to give you a good protective antibody response if you should be exposed to the measles virus today."

Teske recommends that seniors without immunity get vaccinated against measles.

"The current Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is very effective at giving good immunity to measles," he said.

Even if they had measles as children, seniors might still be susceptible, according to Dr. Teske.

"In rare cases, childhood measles might not provide complete lifelong protection," he said. "Over time, immunity can weaken, making seniors more vulnerable, especially if unvaccinated."

Additional Tips to Prevent the Spread of Measles

Stay home if you're experiencing symptoms: Fever, cough, and rash are common signs of measles. Isolate yourself and contact your doctor to prevent exposing others.

Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid close contact with sick individuals. Maintain a safe distance from anyone with symptoms suggestive of measles.

Working together and prioritizing vaccination can effectively protect our communities from measles and its complications, especially for our most vulnerable populations.

 

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