Q&A on Measles and Travel: It’s a small world after all!

In the last month, nearly 100 measles cases have been linked to exposure at Disneyland, prompting concerns from many parents about travel. Lauren Greenfield, RN, and Libby Page, MPH, from our Immunizations program shared their answers to common questions.

Q: Is there a risk from measles at Disneyland or California right now?

A: If you’re not vaccinated, you are at increased risk for measles when you travel internationally or encounter large numbers of international travelers (such as in airports or crowded tourist destinations). So it’s not just California or Disneyland–if you aren’t vaccinated, you are even at increased risk in the U.S., especially if there are pockets of unvaccinated persons in your community. New cases of measles continue to crop up in California and cases linked to the California out61053292_72071767b7_zbreak have been reported in multiple other states.

For people who have received two doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine on the recommended schedule, you have over 90% protection against measles and that protection is long lasting.

Q: I am planning a trip to Disneyland. What can I do to reduce the risk of measles for my children?

CDC recommends that children get vaccinated with the first dose of MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age, followed by the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. If you have plans to visit Disneyland and have a child under the age of 12 months, CDC does not recommend that they get the MMR vaccine prior to the recommended age. Likewise, there is no recommendation for children 1 to 4 years old to get a second dose of MMR vaccine early because even one dose provides very good protection.

Q: I am planning an overseas trip. What can I do to reduce the risk of measles for my family?

A: The CDC recommends making sure you’ve had the MMR vaccine prior to departure overseas:

  • Infants 6 through 11 months old should receive 1 dose of MMR vaccine. (This dose does not count toward the required vaccine series and the child still needs two more doses beginning at age 12 months.)
  • Children 12 months of age or older should have documentation of 2 doses of MMR vaccine.
  • Teenagers and adults without evidence of measles immunity should have documentation of 2 doses of MMR vaccine.

Q: Why does the CDC recommend the MMR vaccine for babies 6 to 11 months if the baby is going overseas, but not for all babies in the U.S.?

A: The general minimum age to get the first dose of MMR vaccine is one year.

Measles is much more common in other parts of the world where there is continuous transmission of the virus and so the risk of exposure is much higher. Therefore, it is recommended that babies receive their first MMR vaccine earlier when they will travel abroad.  Because the protection is not as long lasting when the first dose is given early, two more doses are needed beginning when the child is 12 months old for optimal long lasting protection .

More information about immunizations: http://kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/communicable/immunization.aspx

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.