“Need I worry about measles?” writes Gertrude de Souza in Quebec City. “I’m a senior and planning to travel to California soon. I don’t remember if I ever had it or had the vaccination. Should I be vaccinated? Is there a way to tell if I am immune?” André Picard, The Globe’s public health reporter says, “If you are a senior, you almost certainly had measles when you were a child and don’t need to be vaccinated.” Picard elaborates:
With the outbreak of measles linked to Disneyland, and the recent cases in Canada (10 cases in Quebec, eight in Ontario and one in Manitoba), many people are wondering if they are immunized.
Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, an associate professor of paediatrics at McGill University and present-elect of the Association of Medical Microbioogy and Infectious Disease Canada, said that as a general rule physicians and the public should assume :
- If you were born in Canada before 1970, you very likely had measles and are immune. (If you were born in the U.S., it’s 1957 and varies depending on when countries introduced measles vaccination for children.)
- If you were born between 1970 and 1979 you likely received only one dose of measles vaccine, but likely have immunity because measles was still circulating widely;
- If you were born after 1979, you likely received two doses of measles vaccine and have immunity.
If you’re not sure if you had the measles or if you were vaccinated, the easiest thing to do is get re-vaccinated.
Dr. Quach said the take-home message is simple: If in doubt, vaccinate.
You can have your level of immunity medically tested, but the test is usually only done for pregnant women and those with immune deficiencies, and others who cannot get the vaccine.
While the outbreak in California is getting a lot of attention, remember that there are a lot of countries where contracting measles is a risk.
Most measles cases imported to Canada are in travellers from the Phillipines, India and France. (While there are just over 100 measles cases linked to the Disneyland outbreak, there have been more than 22,000 cases in an on-going outbreak in France, where childhood vaccination rates are among the lowest in the world – just 67 per cent for measles.)
Follow Picard on Twitter and read his recent column: Majority of Canadians appear to back mandatory childhood vaccination