Even with the United States edging toward a record number of measles cases in a single year since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000, one physician says seniors likely have little to worry about.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today reported a total of 626 confirmed measles cases in 22 states, making it the highest number of people sickened by the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease in the past five years. And 2019′s case counts could still rise in the coming weeks because of the potential increased disease spread at Easter and Passover gatherings.
But while they may worry for their grandchildren, Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA said most older adults need not be too concerned for themselves. “If you’re over 65, you probably aren’t going to get the measles,” he said.
A geriatrician, cardiologist, and chief scientific officer of Clover Health, Dharmarajan said even so, in the wake of “several unprecedented measles outbreaks in the U.S., seniors living in these areas should confirm their immunity status. Especially for older adults, the majority of whom suffer from one or more chronic conditions, there is a high risk of serious complications if they contract the measles.” MMR vaccinations pose minimal risks for older adults and are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicare Advantage.
According to the CDC, adults 63 and older (those born before 1957) are presumptively considered immune to the disease, as they were likely infected naturally before the vaccine was invented, providing lifelong immunity. Most older adults born in or after 1957 received two doses of the MMR vaccine, and do not need to be re-vaccinated, Dharmarajan said.
Still, there are certain subsets of older adults who may still be at risk. “Anyone who received an inactivated or killed version of the measles vaccine, which was available only in the mid-1960s, may not have developed immunity, as this vaccine was ineffective,” Dharmarajan said. “In addition, older adults born outside of the U.S. may not have been exposed to measles and therefore may not have immunity to the virus.”
Dharmarajan said if you’re an older adult and unsure about your vaccination status, especially if you live in or are planning to travel to a high-risk area, it’s important to talk to your doctor. “Your physician may ask for a blood test to look for the presence of antibodies that fight measles,” he said. “If you find you are not immune, it’s not too late to get vaccinated against the disease.”
The states that have reported cases of measles to the CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee and Washington.
The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated, the CDC reported.
According to the CDC, measles outbreaks (defined as 3 or more cases) are currently ongoing in the following jurisdictions:
These outbreaks have been linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring, the CDC reported.
The symptoms of measles—including high fever; cough; runny nose and red, watery eyes—generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected. Symptoms are followed by tiny white spots which may appear inside the mouth and a rash of flat red spots which may appear on the face, at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104° F. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a site dedicated to answering common questions about vaccines for adults age 65 and older.