Some adults may need a booster shot.
Measles has taken the life of an international flight attendant five months after she first contracted the disease, prompting health officials to warn again that this seemingly childhood disease can be dangerous for adults.
Rotem Amitai, 43, who died Tuesday, traveled from New York to Tel Aviv in March, according to The Times of Israel. A few days after landing in Israel, she developed a fever.
Authorities don’t know if the mother of three was infected on the flight or which country she was in when she contracted the disease.
Doctors said she had brain swelling (encephalitis), which is a complication of measles.
Amitai’s death has put a spotlight on the record-breaking measles outbreak in the United States and
The death of a healthy adult from a disease that’s associated mainly with childhood has drawn attention to the importance of booster shots and changing vaccination requirements in recent decades.
According to a report in The Times of Israel, blood tests showed that Amitai only had one shot instead of two, which is currently recommended.
According to the
In America, the
Earlier doses were from a killed version of the vaccine used between 1963 and 1967, which wasn’t as effective.
That would consist of laboratory tests showing immunity or evidence of having the measles, documentation of a shot, or being born before 1957. People with a high risk include college students, healthcare personnel, and international travelers; they should get two doses.
The current version of the vaccine, which includes two shots, only became the standard in 1989, notes Y. Tony Yang, a professor at George Washington University.
People born and vaccinated before then may have received a less effective shot, he says. Some sources say anyone born between
“One dose protects about 93 percent of people, and two doses protects 97 percent,” said Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, an associate professor of pediatrics and infectious disease at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. He commented on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As of last week, the CDC reported there have been 1,182 individual cases of measles across 30 states in the United States. “This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000,” the
The World Health Organization says more than
“All international travelers who have any uncertainty about their measles vaccination history should get a dose,” warned Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.
“If you have any doubt [about being fully inoculated] and you’re traveling internationally, just roll up your sleeve and get a vaccine,” he said. “If you get an extra dose, there’s no harm.”
Schaffner notes that people who are immunocompromised in any way, or those who are pregnant, should talk to their doctor about complications.
El Al, the airline that employed Amitai, said in news reports it had taken steps to have aircrews vaccinated. The airline didn’t return a request for comment from Healthline.
Schaffner believes all airlines should ensure their personnel are vaccinated.
“There is presently no national recommendation for flight attendants only traveling domestically, but local public health departments [in places] where there are currently cases of measles may have different recommendations,” O’Leary explained.
They may recommend a second dose for people without evidence of immunity if the person was traveling to a place such as Israel and New York, where there are current outbreaks.
Some people have called for a more aggressive approach, mandating two doses for anyone traveling internationally, O’Leary says.
Schaffner points out that measles is a serious disease and should be treated that way.
“With increasing age, the risk of the complications increases,” Schaffner said. “Simply being 43 and getting measles put [Amitai] at high risk.”
While some contend measles is “just a rash” that isn’t serious, Schaffner says that’s “baloney.”
“We should all remember that measles was a very nasty infection,” he added. “I wouldn’t wish even an uncomplicated version of measles on any child.”
The story of Amitai’s death will likely motivate some adults to check their vaccination status. And it may help doctors encourage patients to get a second vaccine if needed.
But measles is so virulent, experts say more than 90 percent of the population need to be protected to keep it from spreading.
To O’Leary, Amitai’s death is a reminder that measles is a potentially severe, life-threatening illness that’s “essentially entirely preventable” through vaccination.
“Measles is so contagious that we really do need well over 90 percent of the population vaccinated in order to eliminate the disease completely,” O’Leary said. “We don’t want to just control this disease. The goal is zero.”
O’Leary says rising pockets of unvaccinated people increase the risk for everyone.
“Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks,” he added.
Patricia Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and senior director of infection control at Children’s Minnesota, says Amitai’s death is a reminder that measles can be deadly — and everyone should see if they’re up to date on their MMR vaccine.
“I am heartbroken for this flight attendant’s family,” she said. “For those who spread the misinformation that measles is a simple rash, the encephalitis and death caused in this case is a reminder it is a potentially deadly disease. It is why we vaccinate.”
“Measles is spreading the globe and is so easily spread. The more cases we see, the more deaths we will see,” Stinchfield added.