CDC to Travelers: Vaccinate Young Children Early Against Measles

U.S. families should take extra precautions to protect young children.

ByABC News
April 8, 2011, 1:45 PM

April 11, 2011— -- Although most people think of measles as a pimply plague of the past, U.S. families traveling or living abroad should take extra precautions because of increasing cases among residents returning from Europe, Africa and Asia.

U.S. infants and toddlers spending time overseas should be vaccinated earlier than those living in this country, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday as part of a report on cases imported by tiny travelers. Young children are more vulnerable to severe measles infections and at greater risk of death or encephalitis, a dangerous brain inflammation.

Before heading overseas, U.S. children aged 6 to 11 months should receive one dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, while those at least 1 year old should receive two doses spaced at least 28 days apart. That compares with the general recommendation to give the first dose at 12-15 months, and a second before starting kindergarten. The CDC since 1989 has advised accelerating measles vaccinations for youngsters headed to regions with known outbreaks, although it's unclear how many parents have heeded the guidance.

The latest public health warning about "imported cases" might surprise parents and some doctors, as measles largely has fallen off the U.S. radar screen since 2000, when it was declared eliminated within our borders.

More worrisome to U.S. moms and dads might be news that measles has been on the upswing in such developed countries as Great Britain, Switzerland, France and Spain. According to the CDC, 39 percent of U.S. measles imports in 2005-2008 originated in Europe.

"Despite the fact that it's been in the news in Europe, we believe that people in the United States are largely unaware that there is measles in Europe," Dr. Gregory L. Armstrong, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC in Atlanta, said in an interview Friday.

In 1994, health officials pronounced measles gone from the United Kingdom, only to declare it endemic again in 2008 because of falling immunization levels, he said. Cases have been increasing in France, Switzerland, and lately in Spain.

"By and large, these cases are occurring in people who are born in those countries and who are philosophically opposed to vaccination," Armstrong said.