Protecting you and your community against measles this summer

little girl getting vaccinated, bandage over forearm being placed by gloved hands, vaccine, immunity, MMR, travel, infection, measles outbreak

During the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the world had a hard time keeping up with routine vaccine schedules. Unfortunately, this resulted in childhood vaccination rates lower than what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Minnesota, today’s childhood immunization rates are lower than what they used to be (MDH 2024). Children in childcare centers, kindergarten classes and middle school hallways are more vulnerable to diseases such as measles and whooping cough. The pandemic backslide in childhood immunization rates was the largest sustained drop in childhood immunization in a generation (UNICEF 2022) and has since led to global outbreaks in measles, diphtheria, and polio. As air travel picks up and individuals return to visit family and relatives or travel to new places for vacation, this means a measles outbreak overseas can quickly become a measles outbreak in our backyard.

In fact, measles outbreaks are not rare in Minnesota. Measles outbreaks in 2017 (75 cases) and in 2022 (22 cases) were all started from Minnesotans returning from travel abroad. Minnesota has already seen 9 cases of measles in 2024. The three most recent cases of measles were children treated at Hennepin Healthcare.

Children with measles tend to have a high fever (103F or greater). They develop runny nose, cough, and red crusty eyes. They also develop a rash which starts at the head spreads down to the feet. Parents often take time off of work to care for sick children and the family also quarantines to make sure others don’t get sick. There is no cure for measles and if someone is infected, they can develop complications. For example:

  • 1 in 5 people who catch measles will be hospitalized. They might need treatment for severe dehydration or lung infection. Children with pneumonia might need to be placed on ventilators to help them breathe.
  • 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to permanent brain damage.
  • 1 to 3 out of 1,000 people with measles will die.
  • 1 out of every 10,000 people with measles will develop a condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), which ultimately leads to death. This complication can occur years after the original measles infection.

Measles is a highly contagious virus. In fact, an unvaccinated person can get the disease even if they enter a room after an infected person leaves it. A population needs to have at least 95% of people fully vaccinated against measles to ensure that measles doesn’t spread within a community. Unfortunately, of Minnesotan children born in 2020, less than 93% have received just one dose of measles (MDH). This makes measles one of the more dangerous infections facing Minnesotans today.

Vaccine preventable diseases can seriously harm or even kill infants, children, and adults. Without vaccines, families are at risk of being seriously ill or dying from disease such as measles. Vaccines help the body’s own immune system (or germ-fighting defenses) learn how to attack germs. Children should get their first dose of the MMR vaccine, or the vaccine that prevents measles, between 12 and 15 months of age and the second between ages 4 and 6. Adults who have not been vaccinated and were born after 1957 should get one dose of the vaccine to be considered immune. People born before 1957 are presumed to be immune based on the high likelihood that they were exposed before vaccines were widely used. Whether it’s at your next checkup, your pre-travel visit, or via MyChart message, ask your healthcare team whether you are protected from measles this summer.

About the author

Sheyanga BeecherSheyanga Beecher, APRN, CNP, MPH began her nursing career as a public health nurse conducting home health visits in Baltimore, Maryland. She received her Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2010 and has worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner for over ten years and began working at Hennepin Healthcare in 2013. Sheyanga has since continued to develop and participate in public health programs in the United States and internationally, focusing on infant and child health, infectious diseases, and community-based interventions.

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