What You Need to Know about Measles in Massachusetts

Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued an alert that a child in the greater Boston area has been diagnosed with measles, one of the most contagious infectious diseases. This child traveled across Quincy and Weymouth within the infectious period. (Click here to see a full list of locations and times during which measles exposure was possible.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles cases are on the rise nationwide. In 2017, there were only 120 diagnosed measles cases in the United States. From January 1 to April 26, 2019, 704 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states, according to the CDC.

South Shore Health has instructed our colleagues to be hyper-vigilant for patients that show signs of measles across all of our practices. We’ve been watching for cases for months given that there have been outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest and upstate New York

Have questions about the measles? Here are answers to some common questions.

How concerned should people be if they were in these locations, and what should they do if they were?

Measles cases remain uncommon in Massachusetts, but it is highly contagious for susceptible contacts, such as the very ill, infants, and unvaccinated individuals. The measles is airborne, so the area of contagiousness is greater than with infections such as influenza, whooping cough (pertussis), and meningococcal meningitis.

If you were in one of these locations during these dates and times and aren’t vaccinated, call your healthcare provider. If you aren’t sure of your immunization status, call your provider.

I wasn’t in these places, but I’m still concerned about measles exposure. What should I do?

This is a great time for individuals and families to review their personal immunization history and if susceptible and unvaccinated, immunization should be sought ASAP.

The measles vaccine is safe and effective. It does not cause autism. This has been proven. The only individuals who should not receive the MMR vaccine are those with severe compromised immunity, such as patients with AIDS, those who have received a bone marrow transplant, on who are receiving chemotherapy.

How can people check on whether they need a measles booster or not?

Contact your medical provider who should give you direction on whether additional vaccination is necessary. In an outbreak setting, individuals who remain susceptible and/or are incompletely vaccinated should receive two doses of MMR separated by 28 days. This includes healthcare workers born before 1957.

What are some symptoms of the measles?

Early symptoms of measles occur 10 days to two weeks after exposure and may resemble a cold (with fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes) and a rash occurs on the skin 2-4 days after the initial symptoms develop.

The rash usually appears first on the head and then moves downward. The rash typically lasts a few days and then disappears in the same order. People with measles may be contagious up to four days before the rash appears and for four days after the day the rash appears.

What should people do if they feel the symptoms of measles?

If you or your child displays measles symptoms, contact your healthcare provider by phone for next steps.

Do NOT show up unannounced to your pediatrician or primary care provider’s office, urgent care, or Emergency Department.

Healthcare providers must initiate specific infection control practices, so advanced notice to health care providers is key.

I have a newborn at home. What steps should I take to keep my baby safe?

Infants cannot receive an MMR vaccine until they are between 12-15 months of age. An important step parents can take is to "cocoon" infants from measles by only allowing adults and older children who have been vaccinated (or are otherwise immune) near the baby. This is a helpful practice for other highly contagious diseases that can be especially serious for babies, such as whooping cough.

The measles is a serious disease. But by vaccinating yourself and your children, you can stop its spread.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post, published on April 2, 2019, referred to a previous measles exposure on the South Shore. Click here to see a full list of locations and times during which measles exposure was possible in April.