Do you need a measles shot? A travel doctor weighs in

Nearly 20 years after measles was declared eradicated in the United States, the highly contagious virus is making a comeback.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 836 confirmed measles cases this year, as of May 10, 2019, spread out across 23 states. The number of new cases jumped by 75 from the previous week. Georgia has had 6 confirmed cases since early January, all of them between members of two families.

At Highland Urgent Care and Family Medicine in Atlanta's Virginia Highland neighborhood, Dr. Nicholas Beaulieu specializes in travel medicine. His patients typically come in to get protected against more exotic diseases like yellow fever.

"Now, we're seeing a lot more people who come just to get the measles vaccine, being aware of excess measles cases in other countries," says Dr. Beaulieu. "So, that has become a small but growing number of the population who seek vaccines at our clinic.

If you planning to travel abroad this summer and haven't received 2 doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella or MMR vaccine, Dr. Beaulieu says you need to get protected.

Measles is still widespread in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

"So Western European countries like Italy, France, and England, to a lesser extent, have had large anti-vaccine movements and have subsequently developed a reservoir of measles," says Dr. Beaulieu.

Beaulieu says Ukraine in Eastern Europe has been a hotspot for measles, too.

"When we travel abroad, we think food poisoning, Dengue, Zika, Typhoid or other illnesses, but common diseases are making a comeback because of lack of vaccination," explains Dr. Beaulieu.

There is concern about measles because the virus is highly contagious. If you're exposed to it and you haven't been vaccinated, he says, you are almost certain to contract the virus.

But, do you need to get the MMR vaccine? Beaulieu says that depends on your age and your vaccine history.

"If you were born before 1957, it's assumed you've already contracted (measles)," he says. "So, typically that population is not recommended for the vaccine. Anybody born after that will require a 2 vaccination series."

The CDC recommends children be vaccinated first when they're 12 to 15 months old, then again between the ages of 4 and 6.

"The people at highest risk are the people who are not vaccinated," Beaulieu says. "We typically do not give the first dose of the measles vaccine until after a child is one year. So they are particularly susceptible."

Mothers may pass alone some protection to their newborns.

The CDC says teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity, like a shot record, should get two doses of MMR vaccine separated by 28 days.

"But, additional doses will not cause any further problems," Beaulieu says. "So, if there is any question about whether you think you should or should not, it will not be detrimental to receive an extra vaccine."