CDC Issues Measles Alert Over Rising Cases

By Pat Carragher - March 26, 2024

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that measles cases are on the rise in the U.S. The agency announced there have been 64 confirmed cases so far this year. There were 58 in all of 2023.

The agency says 93% of cases were linked to international travel. Many involved children 1 year old or older who hadn’t yet gotten measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccinations.

What does this mean for people living with cancer?

A 2021 study published in JAMA Network Open looked at the prevalence of measles and mumps antibodies in people with cancer. In the 950-plus participants in the study, researchers found that 25% lacked protective antibodies for measles and 38% lacked antibodies for mumps.

The study also found that people ages 30 to 59, those with hematologic malignancies and stem cell transplant recipients had significantly lower antibodies for both measles and mumps.

Dr. John Greene, Chair, Infectious Diseases Program

According to Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, measles is concerning because of just how contagious it is, even to healthy people. On average, one person sick with the flu spreads illness to about 1.2 to 1.4 people, compared to COVID, which spreads to about 2.5 people. Measles can spread to 12 to 18 people from just one sick person.

“Measles has the amazing ability to stay in the air and stay on surfaces,” Greene said. “It’s dramatically more contagious than other illnesses. It’s one of the most contagious organisms that we know of.”

Measles usually begins when the infected develops a fever, cough, runny nose and pink eye for about two to four days before a rash appears, according to the CDC. The incubation period for measles from exposure to fever is typically about 10 days, while rash onset will begin to be visible around 14 days after initial exposure, the agency says.

The MMR vaccine is a live vaccine that prevents against the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. The CDC recommends all children get two doses, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.

It is also typically given to bone marrow transplant patients two years after their transplant when they no longer have severe immune suppression. It may not be recommended for people currently undergoing treatment for solid cancer tumors. Most patients can receive the MMR vaccine three to six months after all chemotherapy is completed. Check with your doctor to see if you are a candidate to receive the vaccine.

What can someone with cancer do to keep themselves safe from measles?

“Avoid people that are sick and make sure everyone in your environment is vaccinated: caregivers, coworkers or anyone you’re around on a daily basis,” Greene said. “The more people around you that are vaccinated, the better.”

While the current number of cases is concerning, the CDC says the risk of widescale spread is low due to high population immunity in most U.S. communities. Some communities may be at higher risk for outbreaks if they have a low coverage of vaccinated people.

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