Measles are making a comeback. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says travelers to countries with large recent outbreaks, including France, Britain, Spain, Switzerland, India and areas of Africa and Asia, have returned to the U.S. and brought cases of the highly contagious disease with them.
"Every traveler needs to make sure they are immune to measles," Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, a consultant for the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine, said in an interview. To be clear, this situation involves plain old measles, not some new strain or superbug.
But here's a bit of good news: If you've already been properly vaccinated or had measles as a child, you have lifetime immunity, Kozarsky says. Those who don't recall whether they had measles or whether they were vaccinated can find out from a simple blood test.
The disease, which causes itchy rashes and high fevers, was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. In a recent health advisory the CDC said many of the 156 cases confirmed in the U.S. this year were acquired during international travel. California too has reported an alarming rise in the number of measles cases.
In its advisory, the CDC urges that American travelers ages 6 months and over who haven't been vaccinated, and are known to lack immunity, get what's called the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. It requires two shots spaced 28 days apart for lifetime immunity. (Vaccine costs vary by clinic and doctor. I called a travel clinic in Southern California, for example, that says it charges $85 per shot.)
Measles, passed easily by coughing or sneezing, can cause complications such as pneumonia, encephalitis and even death. Check out the CDC's website for more information about measles, including its "Advice for Travelers" section.