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Do You Need a Booster Shot After the Measles Outbreak?

Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

The measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland in mid-December has risen to 79 confirmed cases in California, and 16 cases in seven other states and Mexico. As the numbers continue to rise, there have been a lot questions about measles, vaccinations and whether or not to get a booster shot. Dr. James Cherry, a UCLA research professor and an author and editor of the "Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases," offers up some much-needed answers.

Some of the confirmed cases involved people who had been vaccinated. How can that happen?

"One dose of vaccine gives you 95 percent protection; two doses, over 99 percent protection. The two people at Disneyland had two doses," he said. But they fell into that 1 percent of people who can still get it."

What is measles like for people who have been vaccinated?

"The good thing about it is the measles [those who are vaccinated] get is modified; it's not so severe. That was the situation of Disney people. They kept working. They didn't realize their rash was measles."

People used to get measles all the time. Why is it so bad for a child to get measles?

"In the United States, 1 in 500 people who get measles die. One in 1,000 get inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). A percentage of those will go on to have permanent brain damage. A more common complication is pneumonia."

MORE: California School Sends Unvaccinated Kids Home

How easy is it to get measles if you're not vaccinated?

"Measles is one of the most contagious diseases."

The virus is airborne and can live in a space for up to two hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means that if someone with measles coughs or sneezes in a space, measles can be contracted long after the person has left.

What would happen if there were no vaccinations?

"If we didn't vaccinate, there would be 8,000 deaths from measles each year and there would be 4,000 (cases of) inflammation of the brain." And of those 4,000 with inflammation of the brain, 1,000 would be left with brain damage similar to autism, he said.

What does it mean for babies that are too young to be immunized and kids who can't receive the vaccine if there are multiple children in our community who are not vaccinated?

"It's a definite risk. How much of the population needs to be protected so that if a case is introduced it won't spread? The idea of herd immunity is simple but not simple. If the overall population is immunized above 95 percent, the likelihood of someone with measles running into one of the 5 people out of 100 who are not vaccinated is low."

We need herd immunity because there are people (including babies and those with HIV, cancer or severe allergic reactions) who we can't vaccinate.

MORE: Unvaccinated Babies Tend to Cluster, Increasing Risk

Are you seeing more people who are getting their children vaccinated?

"I think the good news is that a lot of these people who have not vaccinated are going back to their doctor ... Pediatricians in practice are (seeing parents) coming in and asking (for their child) to be vaccinated."

Do adults need to get the vaccine if we were vaccinated as children?

"Adults can get a blood test to determine if they are protected or not. Many adults received one dose. There's nothing wrong with getting another dose."

If we had measles as a child, should we get the vaccine?

"If you had natural measles, you'd be protected for life."

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