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Impatient: We answer your questions about measles and vaccines

MILL VALLEY, CA - JANUARY 26:  In this photo illustration, vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are displayed on a counter at a Walgreens Pharmacy on January 26, 2015 in Mill Valley, California.
MILL VALLEY, CA - JANUARY 26: In this photo illustration, vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are displayed on a counter at a Walgreens Pharmacy on January 26, 2015 in Mill Valley, California.
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It's been a little more than a month since we first started talking about the measles outbreak that began at Disneyland. Since then, you've heard a lot about the disease, both on Take Two and from our reporters, but we know many of you still have questions about how to keep yourselves, and your loved ones, safe and healthy.

So, we thought that it would be a perfect opportunity to launch our new health focused segment, Impatient, with Southern California Public Radio's Rebecca Plevin.

This week she takes the opportunity to answer some listener questions about the measles vaccine.

Q: Kristen Hughes of Burbank asks: Since the CDC recommends that infants 6-11 months of age who will be traveling to countries with a known measles outbreak get the vaccination early, why aren't they allowing Southern California parents to vaccinate their infants early? My son is 8 months and I want to get the MMR vaccine now!

A: Dr. Michael Neely, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, says it's a question of balancing risk.

Infants inherit some immunity to diseases, including measles, from their moms. Neely says this protection lasts for between six and 12 months. If a child gets the vaccine between six months and one year of age, those inherited antibodies can interfere with the vaccine, and make it less effective. So typically, doctors recommend that parents wait until a child is one year old to get their first measles shot. 

Doctors do recommend that if an infant is traveling to a country where measles is widespread, that it's worth getting the shot early for extra protection. But, because the vaccine will be less effective, the child will still need two more doses after he or she turns one. 

Neely's advice to Hughes? He says:

"... The risk of exposure here in Southern California is still very low for the general population. So there really isn't much need for her to be worrying about vaccinating her infant. If however, she absolutely cannot sleep at night, and she's so anxious that she wants to get the vaccination, she can discuss it with her pediatrician, they can consider whether or not to vaccinate together."

Q: Another listener, Amelia, is worried about her cousin who she says is in her late 60s, has never been vaccinated and has never had measles. Should she be worried about her cousin getting sick?

A: Dr. Neely says practically everyone - an estimated 95 to 97 percent of the people - born before 1957 are considered to be immune to measles.

That's because the disease was widespread at that time, and they probably lived through several measles epidemics.

He says her cousin might've even had the measles, and not known it, if he or she didn't have the classic symptoms.

But if they're still concerned, Neely says, "there's a simple blood test that can be done to measure the level of anti-bodies in the blood against measles and if they're high enough, the woman is immune."

Q: We received a question from a woman named Gail, who commented on the measles FAQ on our website. Her husband's 67. She said that he had something called German measles as a kid. Does that mean he's immune to measles now? 

A: German measles is another name for rubella, or the “R” in the MMR disease. It's another virus that causes fever and rash.

So, German measles and the measles virus we’re seeing today are different. And having one would not make you immune to the other.
To the first part of Gail’s question: Her husband is 67, which means he was born well before 1957. And the vast majority of people who were born before then are considered to be immune to measles.

Check out Rebecca's measles FAQ for additional information and where to get vaccinated.

Do you have questions we haven't answered? Let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page or on Twitter (@KPCC or @TakeTwo).