By Ben Flannery, MD
When it comes to preventing measles, age matters.
The measles outbreak that started in Hennepin County has parents and health care professionals working to ensure that all children in the region are immunized against this highly contagious disease.
Immunization is the most important factor to protect against an outbreak of measles.
There are 69 confirmed cases, mostly in Hennepin County with two cases in Le Sueur County and four each in Ramsey and Crow Wing counties (as of May 23). Sixty of these patients were not immunized, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, which is closely tracking the outbreak.
While no cases have occurred in Rice County, it’s important for parents to make sure their kids are immunized in case the outbreak spreads further.
It’s important for all children 12 months and older to be immunized with the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine.
Children in the affected counties who have had just one dose should get their second dose as soon as possible (but at least 28 days after the first dose).
Children who are 4 years or older should get their second MMR shot. Kids usually get this booster shot when they’re starting school, but there’s no reason to wait – especially with an active outbreak in the region.
These recommendations come from the Minnesota Department of Health for children who are not directly exposed to measles. MDH may expand its recommendations if the measles outbreak spreads to more communities, increasing risk of exposure.
Talk with your pediatrician about immunization options for any child younger than 12 months that you’re concerned may have been exposed to measles.
Measles is a sneaky disease. It’s transmitted through touch and through the air (where it can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed). You can be spreading it even before you show symptoms. That’s why being immunized is the best way to be protected, because you can’t wait for symptoms to know if you’ve been exposed to the disease.
Measles begins with a fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. Then a rash develops that usually spreads from the head to the rest of the body. Call your doctor or clinic right away if you see symptoms of measles.
Most adults are safe from measles, thanks to MMR immunizations they got as kids. MDH recommends that adults who have never received the MMR vaccine and have never had measles should get the vaccine now.
Rice County Public Health offers immunizations for children (and adults) who are uninsured, on Medical Assistance, or do not have vaccine coverage through their private insurance. Walk-in immunization clinics are held every Tuesday from 1- 4 p.m. in Faribault at the Public Health Office, 320 Third Street NW. (Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.) The county requests a donation of $21 for each immunization given, but no one is refused immunizations due to inability to pay.
Immunizations are an incredibly safe, effective way to prevent illnesses that cause debilitating disease and even death. And prevention is the best way to beat measles, at every age.
Dr. Ben Flannery is a pediatrician at Northfield Hospital + Clinics. To make an appointment, call the Northfield Clinic at 507-646-1494.