Think You Can't Get Measles As an Adult? Guess Again

I thought so.  As a kid, I had all three -- measles, mumps and chicken pox.  Everyone did.  It was a rite of passage.

Vaccines weren't around in those days (the '50s, yes, I'll admit it) and well, you just got whatever was going around.  In those days we went outside and played with all the neighborhood kids, and if Ginny got scarlet fever, I knew I'd be next.

I guess sitting behind a computer all day like today, you're a little more protected, but still, we vaccinate our kids to be safe, and I believe you can't enter most public schools unless you are vaccinated (though parents can opt out for medical or religious reasons).  I remember my son receiving the dreaded measles and mumps vaccine as an infant, and watching him like a hawk (there were rumors this caused autism and other terrible things), and about the worst that happened was a high fever and a kid who cried so much when I took him out in the jogging stroller I did something I've never done before. Turned around and went home.

But the scary reality is that experts are now finding that some of these vaccines don't last for life, or, as The Wall Street Journal recently put it, not all "are created equal." Recent outbreaks of measles among children and adults in Brooklyn, N.Y., and in the United Kingdom have some people worried their protection has quit, the WSJ reports.

Catching the disease provides immunity for life, the WSJ quotes Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health, in the article.  But protection from diseases you're just vaccinated for may not.

One thing that's on our side as adults is that these diseases occur so infrequently now that it's quite rare, according to the story.   But vaccination is very important. "When we see a mini-outbreak of measles, it may include some adults whose immunity is not optimal but who would never have gotten measles from these children had those children been vaccinated to begin with," Dr. Fauci told the Journal.

A bigger threat to infants and children is pertussis, or whooping cough, he went on.  You've probably seen the commercial -- the mom holding her new baby and in the background, this horrible sound of coughing and choking, while the mom says that the very action of pressing the baby close to her body may put him at high risk for this disease, and possibly kill him.

That's because the vaccine for pertussis is weaker than the one that pretty much wiped out the illness in the '70s because it caused fevers.

But we can carry the infection without even knowing it -- or becoming sick -- and babies often catch it from older siblings who bring it home from day care or school. Dr. Fauci advises parents to get a one-time, follow-up DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) shot, just in case, because the vaccine they may have received as children weakens after 10 years.


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