Last week, a University of Nevada, Reno student- who had been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella- was found to have contracted measles. In response, health departments in two states have opened investigations to figure out what happened and how best to protect the community.1 According to the CDC, the full course- two shots- is 97% effective in preventing measles while one dose is 93% effective and yet, getting measles after you’ve been vaccinated against it, is not unheard of.
Measles, a respiratory disease characterized by a red rash and fever, is so contagious that 9 in 10 people who get close to someone who is infected, will become infected as well (if they aren’t immune). Because people are contagious for four days before the rash appears (to four days after) you might not even know you’re unwell. You see, the virus, found in the misty droplets of our “breath, coughs or sneezes, can live up two hours in the air and on surfaces in a room where a sick person has been.” 2
As of March 30, 34 people in 11 states had been sickened by measles.
The case in Reno is linked to an outbreak in the San Francisco Bay area where an unvaccinated person traveling in Europe was exposed to and developed measles after returning to the San Francisco Bay area. Currently, the outbreak consists of six confirmed cases and one suspect case. (Six people is considered an outbreak?)
“Washoe County health officials have received hundreds of phone calls so far from people concerned that they been nearby as the student went shopping at Walmart, to class on campus and skiing at Squaw Valley. The student also visited a CVS clinic and a hospital urgent care March 31 and then the university health center without knowing the potential for passing on the disease.”3
About 300 of about 21,000 students at the University of Nevada, Reno have waivers for the required vaccinations and are currently prohibited from returning to campus. But fear of contracting the virus or worry about being prohibited from attending classes has seen at least nine MMR vaccines given at the university’s student health center in recent days.
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to the measles virus, common sense says you should stay home and rest, lest you infect others or put your already hard-working immune system, under further stress. But I’m not a doctor and my advice shouldn’t be taken as such.