Measles is a highly contagious disease that is uncommon in the United States, but frequently causes outbreaks in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Travelers may need a measles vaccine for better protection.
Measles is no longer circulating in the Unites States, which means “homegrown” outbreaks are rare. Instead, 88% of measles outbreaks are caused by international travelers who bring it back to the country.
For example, a measles outbreak in Ohio that sickened 383 people in 2014 was tracked to two under-vaccinated people who traveled to the Philippines during a measles epidemic and returned to the U.S.
Even adults who were vaccinated against measles as children may not be fully protected. If you were born before 1989 (age 28 or older), you probably only received one shot of the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella.
After 1989, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began recommending two doses of the MMR vaccine. One shot is not very effective at preventing measles.
Anyone who plans on traveling abroad should have documented evidence of two doses of the MMR vaccine, records of having a measles infection, or protective anti-measles antibodies in their blood.
Adults who were born before 1957 (age 60 or older) are excluded from the 2-dose MMR vaccine recommendation because measles was so common back then that nearly everyone was exposed and became immune as children. Even so, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before you travel abroad.
Measles is one of the most highly-contagious diseases known to medicine. Over 90% of non-immune people who are exposed to someone with measles will get it — even just by being in the same room, and up to 2 hours after they leave.
There were 2,600 cases of measles in Europe last year, and nearly 60% occurred in Germany, France and Italy. Measles is far more common in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa, where an estimated 134,000 people die of measles complications like pneumonia every year.
Lack of concern is a big reason why international travelers choose to skip the measles vaccine, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study showed that nearly 50% of eligible travelers refused to get a measles vaccine at their pre-travel health consultation.
Source: Missed Opportunities for Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination Among Departing U.S. Adult Travelers Receiving Pretravel Health Consultations — Annals of Internal Medicine (May 2017)
Source: Traveling Abroad? Born Before 1989? You May Need a New Measles Vaccination — Slate (May 2017)