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Should You Worry About Contracting Measles?

Though the majority of Americans are immune to the measles, King County Health explains who may be at risk if exposed to one of two confirmed local infections.

With a recent confirmed case of measles in the Issaquah area, many people are no doubt wondering if they need to be concerned for their health.

James Apa, a King County Health spokesman, said most people need not worry, but the recent cases are a reminder to check your immunity status and watch for symptoms if you've been in the same locations around the same time as people affected.

"The good news is most people have immunity to measles," Apa said, but the department has wanted to get the word out "because it’s so contagious it has a way of finding the unvaccinated. And, because it can be a very severe illness, we want to make sure people who are more vulnerable are aware."

The people most likely to contract the disease are infants under six months old who have not been vaccinated (the two-dose vaccination series begins at 12 months of age); pregnant women; people with compromised immune systems; and unvaccinated adults.

"Pregant woman considered at risk even if vaccinated, for two reasons," Apa said. "When you’re pregnant it does suppress immunity and can potentially cause complications. People who are immune-compromised, even if vaccinated then they are more vulnerable."

There are several reasons why adults may not be immune, Apa said. Adults who move to the U.S. from other countries where measles are common are recommended, but not required, to be vaccinated upon moving here. Adults who were born here but received their measles vaccination between 1963 and '67 are also considered unvaccinated, because the vaccination used during those years was derived from an inactive, or killed, virus, and considered less effective.

Since 1968, the measles vaccine (now part of the MMR--measles, mumps, rubella) is derived from a low-level live virus and effective for almost all people, provided they get two doses. The first dose provides immunity for 95 percent of people.

There's good news also for anyone born before 1957. There was no vaccine yet, so nearly everyone was exposed, and can be considered immune to the disease, Apa said.

" when we sent out the notification of where that person was, our second case actually heard news reports about the first case. That person heard of the potential exposure to them and was having symptoms," and visited their family doctor, Apa said. "While we know most people are protected with vaccination, there are some people who are vulnerable, so if they have symptoms they can act quickly."

For anyone who visited the Klahanie Starbucks or QFC during or after the person with measles was there, the message is awareness, Apa said.

"We listed a time period," Apa said. "It wasn't that that person was there the whole time, but the virus hangs in the air for several hours." Apa said there have been documented cases of people becoming ill after visiting a location after an infected person left.

As for the Issaquah area case, the person who became ill is recovering at home, Apa said.

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