Measles: A dangerous vaccine-preventable disease returns

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In 2000, measles was considered controlled in the United States, thanks to the national vaccination policy. But despite overall control, small numbers of cases continued to occur each year, related to exposure to cases imported from areas of the world endemic with measles.

Within the last year, however, major outbreaks have emerged. Incompletely vaccinated populations and unvaccinated individuals are the reason for the progression of current outbreaks.8

Until there is broader acceptance of the vaccine and better adherence to vaccine policies nationally and globally, measles cannot be completely eradicated. But with high vaccination rates, it is predicted that this infection can be controlled and ultimately eradicated.


In the midst of an outbreak and with rising public awareness of the threat of measles, it is important to recognize that MMR vaccination is the most effective way to prevent spread of the virus and maintain measles elimination in the United States. With this in mind, there are several key facts and recommendations regarding vaccination:

Recommendations on vaccination

  • In measles-controlled populations, all children should be vaccinated between 12 and 15 months of age and again before kindergarten.
  • In outbreak settings, children should receive a first vaccine dose at 6 months of age, a second at 12 to 15 months of age, and a third before kindergarten.
  • Children who have received 2 measles vaccine doses can be assumed to be fully vaccinated and thus protected as long as the first dose was after 12 months of age. If the first dose was before 12 months of age, a child needs 3 doses.
  • Adults born before 1957 can be assumed to have had measles infection and to be immune.
  • Adults who were immunized with the inactivated measles vaccine available between 1963 and 1967 should receive 1 dose of live virus vaccine.
  • Boosters are recommended for young adults who did not receive a second dose of vaccine and for adults with an uncertain history of immunization. There is no need to check titers before giving a booster, but if a positive titer is available in an adult, a booster is not needed.
  • Heathcare providers should vaccinate unvaccinated or undervaccinated US residents traveling internationally (as long as they do not have contraindications) or traveling within the country to areas with outbreaks of measles.

Recommendations on vaccination after exposure to measles

  • Vaccine is recommended for a nonimmune contact, including anyone with a history of only a single dose of vaccine.
  • If a child got a first dose of vaccine before 12 months of age, give the second dose as soon as he or she turns 1 year old, or at least 28 days after the first dose.
  • Vaccine must be given within 72 hours of exposure to confer protection (or at least decrease disease severity).
  • The second dose of vaccine should be given at least 28 days after the first dose.

Recommendations on immune globulin after exposure to measles

  • Immune globulin is recommended for anyone with exposure and no history of vaccination or immunity.
  • Immune globulin can be given up to 6 days after exposure to prevent or decrease the severity of measles in immunocompromised hosts who have not been previously vaccinated. It is best to give it as early as possible.
  • Immune globulin is given intramuscularly at 0.5 mL/kg, up to a to maximum dose of 15 mL.
  • Pregnant women and immunocompromised hosts without immunity should receive immunoglobulin intravenously. Children and adults who have had a recent bone marrow transplant and likely do not yet have a reconstituted immune system should be treated with immune globulin to prevent infection, as vaccine cannot be given immediately after transplant. This is also true for other immunocompromised individuals who have not been vaccinated and who are not candidates for vaccine because of the severity of their immune suppression.
  • Children with human immunodeficiency virus infection are routinely vaccinated. As long as they have evidence of serologic immunity, they do not need additional treatment.

Next Article:

The return of measles—an unnecessary sequel

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