Published on April 03, 2019

Measles exposure nothing to fear, if you’ve been vaccinatedMeasles exposure nothing to fear if you've been vaccinated

A state report announced that someone who’s been confirmed to have the measles recently shopped at a Cape Cod supermarket. You may be searching your memory as to whether you were there at that time, but the better question to ask is: “Am I immune?”

If you had your typical childhood shots, you are.

“If you’ve had the vaccination and you aren’t in any way immunocompromised, then you’re likely to be very protected from measles,” said Kathleen Kohut, MS, RN, CIC, director of infection prevention at Cape Cod Healthcare.

The CDC recommends that children get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine; the first at age 12 to 15 months and the second at age 4 to 6 years.

“Vaccination at 12 to 15 months induces 94 to 98 percent of immunity and re-immunization increases it to 99 percent,” said Kohut. “It's not like the flu where it’s only about 70-ish percent protection.”

Highly Contagious if in Direct Contact

A confirmed measles case was diagnosed in greater Boston on March 31, according to a press release issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Before the diagnosis, the patient went to several public locations at a time when they would have been contagious but not showing the measles rash.

Those locations include the Whole Foods store on Route 132 in Hyannis. The patient was there between 11:55 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. on March 28 (as well as other public places in Plymouth, Waltham, Framingham and Braintree on March 26-28).

Even if you were at that grocery store at that time, you’re at low-risk of catching the measles, according to Kohut.

“Measles is highly contagious, but it’s highly contagious only if you were in direct contact with that patient who was coughing right next to you,” she said. “It's highly contagious if you were touching things that were contaminated with that patient’s body fluids, like their sputum.

“Let’s just say you were in a store with this individual. You’re at very high risk for getting exposed to measles if you stood next to them in the checkout line, and they were coughing right next to you. You would be moderately at risk for exposure if you helped them unload their cart onto the conveyor. And you would not be at very much risk, if at all, because you simply were in the building at the same time as that individual.”

“So, you really have to think about, did I stand next to somebody who was coughing and hacking? Did I touch anything of anybody else’s besides my own groceries? Or was I just there at the same time?”

How Much Immunity?

Exposure is no cause for concern, if you’ve been vaccinated, she said.

“If you’re really worried about whether you have that immunity or not, you can go to your primary care doctor and ask to have a lab test done. But, it’s a very rare instance that you wouldn’t be immune, if you had the vaccine.”

If you believe you could have the measles, your PCP can determine if your symptoms are compatible with measles, and if quarantine and confirmatory tests are needed.

Here are a few basic facts about the measles, which is caused by a virus:

  • You can be contagious four days before the rash appears and four days after the rash appears.
  • The first symptoms are fever, conjunctivitis, congestion and cough. They appear seven to 14 days after infection. About four days after those symptoms begin, the rash will appear, with small red spots with white or bluish centers spreading downward from the face. 
  • The rash lasts four to seven days. You can take a fever-reducing medication for the fever.

“The measles virus doesn’t have a cure,” said Kohut. “You just let it run its course.”