Of course, I got yearly flu vaccines, which became especially important to me when my father’s emphysema meant that a contagious illness would keep me from visiting him.
Every 10 years, I also get a tetanus shot, which comes in the form of the Tdap vaccine. That entered my radar after I stepped on a tack right before I embarked on a trip abroad. Getting lockjaw on an airplane or in the Czech Republic didn’t seem like it would be fun.
Because I got the Tdap so close to a big vacation, it’s easy for me to remember when I need a new one. With my belief in Murphy’s Law, I would worry that if I let it lapse, there would be a rusty nail in my near future. Plus, I sleep easier knowing I’m also protected from diphtheria and whooping cough, which especially comes in handy when I’m around my baby niece or other infants.
But when it came to once-common childhood diseases such as chickenpox and measles, I figured I was fine.
Turns out, I might not have been. Needing proof of my measles vaccine, I questioned my mother. She told me I had gotten all my childhood vaccines. That wasn’t enough. I called the school nurse in my home county. Those records were long gone. As were my pediatricians.
Our director of nursing at MCHD Clinical Services said she could titer me, testing my blood to see if I had antibodies to fight the measles. But she was pretty sure it would be low—if it was present at all—and I would need the vaccine anyway. So, I went ahead and got the two-shot measles vaccine series.
As the number of measles outbreaks rise in the United States to numbers that have been unprecedented recently, I’m feeling good about that decision.
Although measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, as of May 10, 839 cases of the illness had been reported, the most since 1994. Many of these outbreaks are occurring in pockets where people remain unvaccinated, often either because of religious reasons or personal objections to the measles vaccine.
West Virginia—which has among the toughest vaccination laws in the country, not allowing for any exemptions other than medical ones—has not had a reported case of measles since 2009.
But that’s no reason to be complacent. Also, if you plan to travel at all, you definitely want to verify your measles vaccination status. Consider the cruise ship that was quarantined in early May after a crew member came down with measles. But you don’t have to go very far to find measles. As of May 3, Pittsburgh had an outbreak of five reported cases.
For many adults who did get a vaccination, there is a strong chance a booster could be required. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) says anyone born after 1957 needs at least one dose of measles vaccine unless a test confirms that you either had measles or are immune to it.
I know my story is not unique. I recently saw a Pittsburgh man on the TV news who said his mother had always told him he had gotten the measles vaccine. Then he got the measles. The illness, which starts as a fever, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat, is followed by a painful rash that spreads over the body. The man said the rash even got into his mouth and throat, making it impossible for him to eat.
At the very least, measles is a miserable illness. At its worst, it can lead to death. According to the CDC, measles complications can range from ear infections that can lead to permanent hearing loss, encephalitis that can lead to intellectual disabilities and/or deafness, and pneumonia that can lead to death. For every 1,000 children who gets measles, one or two will die from it.
So, take some time to figure out if you might need a measles vaccination, or a second dose. Talk to your parents. Ask your pediatrician. Consult your physician. And feel free to make an appointment at MCHD Clinical Services by calling 304-598-5119.
Contact Mary Wade Triplett at 304-598-5152 or at MaryWade.Triplett@wv.gov. Contact MCHD at 304-598-5100 and find out more about MCHD at monchd.org, on Facebook and Twitter @wvmchd and on Instagram at wvmchd.