Measles outbreak in Europe continues, Army Medicine officials urge vaccination

  • Published
  • By Ms. Ashley Patoka
  • Regional Health Command Europe
Adults and children not vaccinated for measles could be at risk for contracting the illness as a result of an ongoing measles outbreak in several European countries.

Regional Health Command Europe officials recommend families review their vaccination records to ensure everyone is fully vaccinated against the disease.

Additionally, in 2017, Army Medicine clinics throughout Europe began giving the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine as part of the routine 6-month visit with their pediatrician. The vaccine is highly encouraged for all children aged 6-12 months, especially those in day care. This does is in addition to the two doses given to children in the U.S. over 12 months of age.

Measles is an extremely contagious virus, with essentially 100 percent of exposed susceptible individuals becoming infected. The virus can linger in the air of a room or transportation vehicle for up to two hours according to Col. Rodney Coldren, Public Health Command Europe Preventive Medicine Chief.

"However, there is a very safe and effective vaccine available to prevent this disease," Coldren continued. "The vast majority of Americans are already immunized against measles, having received at least two doses of the MMR vaccine in early childhood."

Measles can be a very serious, even fatal, illness and is especially severe in babies and elderly persons, according to Coldren. Adults and children not vaccinated for measles could be at risk for contracting the illness due to the outbreak.

Two groups of people in the American military community are particularly vulnerable to measles infection:
1. Family members who were not subject to the U.S. immunization schedule as children, for example, foreign-born spouses. To help protect your family when traveling around Europe, we recommend that you review your vaccination records to ensure that everyone is fully vaccinated against measles.

2. Children under one year old traveling to high risk areas. Children under one are too young to receive the first regularly scheduled measles vaccine. This is a concern if they are travelling to an area affected by a measles outbreak. In such cases, U.S. authorities allow for the early administration of measles vaccine to provide protection until the regular measles series can be started at 12 months of age. This early dose can be given as early as six months. However, this early dose is additional and does not replace the first shot in the normal immunization schedule.

"Measles has been largely eliminated in the United States, with the exception of small, localized outbreaks, so the MMR vaccine isn't normally administered until 12 months of age," said Coldren. "However, this leaves infants 6-12 months old at risk in areas where the virus is present, because the immunity that was passed on to them from their mothers is generally not effective beyond six months."

For more information on protecting your infant with an early dose of measles vaccine, or assistance reviewing family members' immunization status, please contact your Primary Care team.