The recent outbreak of measles has sparked debate about immunizations for children, leaving family caregivers to wonder how it will affect their senior loved ones (and themselves).
Did you know that older adults got the measles at Disneyland? As of this writing, 121 people were affected in that outbreak, including people up to age 70.
Most of us remember being lined up at school for a nurse to give everyone a shot in the arm. I know I do, although I couldn’t tell you what I was given at the time! I am sure our parents gave their permission before it was done but didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
There was a school mandate in 1978 requiring kids be fully vaccinated before they could attend, which resulted in measles being declared by officials to be eradicated in 2000. But it has returned and needs to be fought once again.
In light of the recent outbreak, family caregivers of older adults should be aware of the discussion and following the latest news and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding vaccines for seniors.
As we age, we can lose the original protection of vaccines to create disease-battling antibodies and “memory cells” that attack infections. Therefore even if once vaccinated, seniors could be at risk from the measles.
Why is Preventing Measles So Important?
It is important for seniors to do all they can to protect themselves from measles because becoming a victim of some ‘childhood’ diseases, or even seasonal flu, pneumonia or shingles, can be life threatening.
The latest measles outbreak is global and half of those who contract the disease worldwide are dying from it.
The measles virus has been called the most infectious, contagious disease in man because it is a highly contagious respiratory virus. It begins with a high fever and gives the person a runny nose, cough, sore throat and in a few days the telltale rash appears. The virus is actually contagious four days before the rash appears.
It is estimated that three out of ten people getting the measles will get a complication such as pneumonia. Complications are much more likely in older adults.
According to health experts, if your senior had the measles he should be immune from contracting it again. If your senior was vaccinated as a child and only received one shot, she may need a booster. If they’re older than 52, chances are good they’ve been exposed to the measles and may have had it as a child.
If you’re not sure, your doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine immunity.
CDC Recommendations Concerning Measles
The CDC has guidelines about what and when our seniors (and ourselves) should be immunized for a variety of illnesses. It is important to keep up with our scheduled immunizations as adults, especially if you are a caregiver.
Seniors are at risk for serious complications from preventable illness and most insurance providers cover vaccines so there is little reason to avoid your doctor-recommended vaccines.
According to the CDC, people born in the US before 1957 were exposed to measles epidemics and have likely (95-98%) developed an immunity to the disease. However, individuals who received an inactivated measles vaccine in the 1960s, were born outside of the US, have no record of vaccination or were never vaccinated when they were a child are recommended to speak to their doctor about options including testing and getting immunized.
Medicare beneficiaries are usually covered for vaccinations recommended by your doctor. If you had only one shot (two doses are now recommended), you may need a booster.
What Should a Family Caregiver Do?
There is no reason for panic about the measles, but it is a important to learn all you can about prevention and what steps you can take to keep your senior loved one healthy.
- Which vaccines are needed and should you test for measles immunity are good questions to add to the list for your senior’s doctor when you visit next. Discussing the recommended vaccines that might be due is always important.
- You may want to take a little time and search through the old health records for your senior adults to see if you can find an immunization record for the usual childhood diseases. You may find some mention in a baby book if you have one which was often a place to record this type of information.
- If they don’t have any records, start an immunization record for them now. Document when they have had a pneumonia vaccine or shingles vaccine and make note of when future vaccinations are needed.
- Have they had a tetanus booster in the last 10 years? Have you? This is another preventive health step we often overlook but is on the recommended list.
- Schedule all preventive testing for your senior loved one and yourself. Tests and procedures such as mammograms, prostate checks, colonoscopy, annual physical, dilated eye exam, blood pressure test, bone density testing, hearing exam, and baseline cognitive screening are all important screening tests that can keep both you and your senior well.
- Preventing illness in your senior and yourself includes how you care for yourselves on a day to day basis. Good hand washing practices, eating well, getting enough sleep, drinking enough fluids, staying active physically and mentally and reducing your stress will help you and your senior live healthfully.
We always want to protect our family members, especially vulnerable senior loved ones. Being sure everyone is vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, knowing their health history, talking to the doctor about what options are best and living a healthy lifestyle will benefit everyone.