Don’t bring back measles as a souvenir from your trip

I’m planning a trip to Walt Disney World with my family next month and can’t wait to see how my 4 year old daughter will react. She tells me, “I can’t wait to meet Elsa in real life!”  Secretly, I am also excited to relive my childhood again.  As I’m planning the trip and booking the hotel rooms, I can’t help but remember what happened last year on January 5, 2015 in Disneyland.

This was the day when an 11 year old unvaccinated child along with 4 other people were diagnosed with measles after visiting Disneyland.  The outbreak spread quickly and by February 11, 2015, there were 125 confirmed cases of measles connected to this outbreak and the disease spread to 6 western states, Canada, and Mexico.  As of June 2015, a record number of 397 cases of measles were reported in the US.  This is the highest number of  measles cases reported in a given year over the last 20 years!  Almost all of these measles cases were imported from travelers, most who were not vaccinated.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that can lead to serious complications and death.  You can check out the CDC website on measles for more information about the disease and its possible complications.  On July 2, 2015, Washington state reported a measles-related death in an undiagnosed woman.  The CDC states that the virus can live for up to two hours in a room where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.  Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.  This is incredibly scary for parents with children too young to be vaccinated or have other conditions that prohibit vaccination.

In 2000, the US declared that measles was eliminated.  However, measles is common in most other countries in the world, including parts of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa.  The CDC reports that every year, 20 million people get measles and  about 146,000 people die from it.  ‘Measles has been brought back to the US by unvaccinated travelers, which then has led to secondary outbreaks in the U.S.

The best way to prevent getting measles on your trip is to make sure you get all the recommended MMR vaccines your doctor recommends.  It is best to get these vaccines at least 2 weeks before your trip.  For people going on international trips, the recommendations for MMR vaccine is  different than the routine immunization schedule.  According to the CDC:

Before any international travel—

  • Infants 6 months through 11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR vaccine.
  • Children 12 months of age and older should receive two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days.
  • Teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity* against measles should get two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days.
  • * Acceptable presumptive evidence of immunity against measles includes at least one of the following: written documentation of adequate vaccination, laboratory evidence of immunity, laboratory confirmation of measles, or birth in the United States before 1957.
  • Infants who get one dose of MMR vaccine before their first birthday should get two more doses (one dose at 12 through 15 months of age and another dose at least 28 days later).

It was unfortunate that the “happiest place on earth” became the breeding grounds for  measles last year.  It certainly was not Disney’s fault.   This huge outbreak ignited a national debate about vaccinations.  With its growing number of anti-vaxxers, many US communities are at risk for more large outbreaks.  For my traveling families, I always urge them to get their MMR vaccines before their trip according to the CDC recommendations to provide maximum protection.   Their children, families, friends, and community will be thankful they did.


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