Measles case is no cause for alarm if properly vaccinated

Feb. 9 marked a very surprising day for many Carnegie Mellon students and faculty, as an email was sent by University Health Services confirming that a graduate student was found to have measles, a highly contagious viral infection that is usually preventable by vaccination.

That being said, the student was fully vaccinated, in accordance with Carnegie Mellon University’s vaccination policy. This is an extraordinarily rare thing, as “two doses of [Measles, Mumps,and Rubella] vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93 percent effective,” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The student was active at the “Carnegie Mellon University campus between Wednesday, Jan. 17 and Thursday, Jan. 25” and on “Port Authority buses 61A, 61B, 61C or 61D several times during that period, but precisely which bus route or time of day is not known,” according to an email sent out to students by Executive Director of University Health Services Beth Kotarski. If you were in these places, as many students were, you might not need to be as fearful as you might think.

Measles is a highly contagious infection, but with proper vaccinations, it is extremely unlikely to contract the virus. Symptoms include a high fever followed by a runny nose, cough, and red eyes, usually in addition to a raised, red rash. Unfortunately for our anonymous Carnegie Mellon graduate student, they were part of the small percent of vaccinated individuals who still risk being susceptible to the virus.

Most cases and outbreaks of measles take place in areas where vaccination is uncommon. In 2014, a largely unvaccinated Amish community was shook with 383 cases, one of the largest outbreaks in the United States since vaccination was introduced. Another notable case was in 2015, when California, a hotspot of the anti-vaccination campaign, and its surrounding states saw an outbreak that began with a traveler from abroad visiting a popular amusement park.

Though most serious outbreaks affect unvaccinated groups, it is not unprecedented to see vaccinated people contract the virus. In 2014, an article in Science Magazine made headlines as it confirmed the first time a vaccinated individual had contracted measles. The article also discussed the potential of the disease not having the longevity scientists once expected.

Here at Carnegie Mellon University, we are certainly seeing something rare, but not something to fear or something unprecedented. Most cases come from out of the country and spread among unvaccinated people. The likelihood of the graduate student case here on campus was around three percent if they were properly vaccinated. The likelihood of someone else, properly vaccinated, of contracting it from them is far smaller.

The email concluded that they were writing to us “out of an abundance of caution,” and that those who actually are at risk are “Anyone born since 1957 who has not received two doses of effective measles vaccine known as MMR, which would include infants too young to have been immunized” and “persons who were vaccinated with an inactivated vaccine, which was used from 1963 through 1967, and have not been re-vaccinated; and those who refused vaccination.” This is, of course, a likely very small percentage of campus.

Despite the statistical unlikelihood of any other cases affecting the Carnegie Mellon campus and community, if you develop any of the aforementioned symptoms, call 412-268-2157 during the day or 1-844-881-7176 after hours, before visiting University Health Services. Students are in good hands as Carnegie Mellon University, in conjunction with the Allegheny County Health Department, make it clear that they are taking the matter very seriously.