• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A–Z: Be protected against measles before you travel

September 16, 2019
Discovery's Edge CDC image of the measles virus

Measles infections in the U.S. are beginning to fall. However, the number of cases reported nationwide year to date remain the highest since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most measles outbreaks in the U.S. are the result of international travel to areas where vaccination rates are low. Ensuring you are vaccinated before travel is vital. "Anyone who is planning to travel, especially with young children in the coming months should talk with their health care provider to make sure they are well-protected against the measles virus," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic.

Watch: Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse talks about measles and international travel.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse are in the downloads. Please "Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network."

"The current recommendation is any child who's traveling internationally should be immune to measles because there is a risk of exposure, either when you arrive in your destination country or in the process of getting there," says. Dr. Rajapakse. 

This includes children between 6 and 11 months of age who have not yet received the standard first dose of measles vaccine in the U.S., which usually occurs between 12 to 15 months. 

"If children between 6 and 11 months are traveling, they may be eligible to get an earlier dose of the measles vaccine before they travel, which can provide them with some protection," says Dr. Rajapakse. "That's the reason why it's really important to talk to your primary care physician or pediatrician if you're planning to travel, especially with young children." It is best to get the vaccine at least two weeks before you depart on your trip.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads through coughing or sneezing. Complications may include ear infection,pneumonia and encephalitis, which can result in permanent brain damage. It can be prevented through vaccination. 

The measles vaccine is given as part of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR). The CDC recommends that MMR be given to children at 12 to 15 months of age. A second dose is recommended before a child starts school, around ages 4–6. If children receive an early dose of MMR vaccine between 6 and 11 months of age because of international travel or a local outbreak, they still will require both routine doses after 1 year of age for full protection.

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