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Some Good News About the Measles Scare

The measles outbreak is officially over in New York City, but it is still circulating in other areas of the United States. Measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but international travel helped this highly contagious respiratory virus sneak back into our country, and the number of confirmed cases is at a 25-year high. The good news: The CDC says most of us are immune — and if you’re not, the fix is easy. Experts say if you were…

Born before 1957?

You’re almost certainly immune! “Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known, and doctors couldn’t protect against it when you were a child,” explains Megan Berman, MD, a vaccine researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch. CDC researchers say at least 3 million children developed measles every year before 1957. “You were exposed to this virus and your immune system produces antibodies against it now, ” says Dr. Berman.

Born between 1957 and 1968?

Ask your doctor if you should get a measles “titer test” — a blood test that measures how strongly your immune system will attack this virus if you encounter it. According to the CDC, the first measles vaccine given to many between 1957 and 1968 produced hit-and-miss results. “You may be immune if you got that vaccine, or you may need one or two measles-mumps-rubella shots to be fully protected,” says Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Born between 1968 and 1989?

You got the more effective vaccine, but probably got only one dose — and we now know that a second shot boosts your immunity from 93 percent to 97 percent, says Louis Morledge, MD, clinical professor of medicine at New York Medical College. If you aren’t certain, ask your doctor about a measles-mumps-rubella shot. There’s no harm, as long as you’re not pregnant. It can protect against serious complications.

Just been exposed?

If you’re concerned about your immunity, getting a measles-mumps-rubella shot within 72 hours of encountering the illness could help! This is called post-exposure prophylaxis, and it can make symptoms less severe or even stop the disease.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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