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Keeping my distance

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One reason I didn't interact as much with friends at the wedding as I would've liked is that it's possible I was exposed to measles last week.

It's unlikely that I was actually exposed. And I think I had measles as a kid, so I think I'm immune. (But I didn't have the vaccine, and I don't know where my childhood medical records would be, so I'm not sure I had the disease. I'll be taking the test today to find out if I'm immune, but apparently the results may take five days to reach me.) And if I was infected, I think it's unlikely that I would have been infectious only a few days later. (I gather that you become infectious around the onset of the fever, a week or two after being infected, but I was having a hard time getting reliable information on that; the nurses I was talking to kept telling me infected people are contagious before symptoms appear, but I think they meant the rash symptom specifically, which comes a few days after the fever.) And I gather that something like 95% of Americans have had either measles or the vaccine. So the chances of my infecting someone were extremely low.

And yet, spreading measles at a wedding really seemed like bad form. So, just to be sure, I warned everyone to stay well away from me, so the only people who I got to hug were people who were certain that they'd either had measles or had the vaccine.

If I had thought there was a significant chance of my having measles, I would've stayed home from the wedding. According to the CDC, it's possible to catch measles by touching an infected surface, up to two hours after the surface's contact with the infected person. Yikes.

So I was being overcautious, and possibly being cautious in ways that wouldn't have been effective if caution had been needed. But I was having a hard time getting very much detailed information about various things, and I figured better to be overcautious than undercautious.

I especially stayed well clear of a pregnant friend. I was told in various contexts that pregnant women can't receive the vaccine, but I wasn't at all clear on whether it's more dangerous for a pregnant woman to be exposed if she's already immune than it would be for anyone else. I would think that her immune system would protect the fetus, but I'm having a hard time finding information about that. Though I now see that it's very strongly implied on the CDC measles vaccine FAQ page, under "Why is MMR vaccine given after the first birthday?"

Really, that was the most frustrating thing about all of this--my information sources were often incomplete, ambiguous, and/or of uncertain reliability. The nurses I talked with could answer some of my specific questions, but for most of them they had to ask a doctor, and the particular doctor they were supposed to ask was unavailable, and anyway it was like playing Telephone--I would ask a question, they would take it to the doctor, they would call me back a while later and tell me what the doctor said, the answer would result in my having another more detailed question, repeat.

The main CDC page on measles provides pointers to a lot of useful info, but for some reason that page wasn't turning up in my search results when I was looking in a hurry on Friday. And it still doesn't quite answer all my questions.

5 Comments

Eep--hope you're measle-free.

As a sanity check, did the possible exposure happen before, during, or after SWIL-28?


Sorry, I should have said: if I was exposed, it was definitely after the reunion. Any other people who may've been exposed in the same context already know about it.


You know, you can always call and ask me medical things like this -- I like to think all the student loans for grad school weren't fer nuthin, after all....

Anyway, the NY board of health had a fairly clear timeline, of sorts:

1st symptoms (runny nose, cough, slight fever, photosensitivy and red eyes): 7-21 days after exposure (most 10-12 days)
rash: 3rd-7th day of illness (so 10-28 days after exposure)
Contagious period: 4 days before and after rash, so earliest would be 6 days post exposure, and certainly not if you're feeling fully hunky-dory with none of the early symptoms yet.

You're also almost certainly immune -- given that you've gone to any number of public schools, you would have had to give either immunization records, or documented history of having had the disease, or a formal religious exemption form. You know you didn't have the first, and I suspect the last one would have been a memorable process, so I'm guessing #2, which would make you more immune than the average immunized person. And if the pregnant friend is immune, she's immune through & through (the twitchiness in pregnancy is more around infections that are harmless to adults but bad for feti -- things we don't bother getting immunized against for ourselves). And while surfaces might hold the germ, it still has to get there -- and it starts in nose and throat, so the usual handwashing and avoiding sharing straws, cutlery, drinks, and long passionate kisses goes a long way to protect people.

But most of all, I hope you had fun at the wedding nonetheless, and will call me next time, if only to outsource the research and give me a sense of purpose and excuse to talk to you.

Bhadrika


Measles is highly contagious, and I am super paranoid about Little T catching anything as he has no immunizations. I initially thought you had a cold and I was relieved once you told me the story. I went through the same reasoning process as Bhadrika without the benefit of a medical degree, so I dared to go near you. I also had measles as a child.


Thanks, Bhadrika! I thought about calling you, but didn't get around to it. Clearly I should've.

Re public schools: My parents told the schools that they were opposed to vaccination on religious grounds. (I'm not really sure what their real reasons were, but afaIk not religious ones.) And I wasn't in public school 'til 4th grade anyway, except for a one-week stint in kindergarten (I attended an "alternative school" through 3rd grade) -- though I imagine that when I reentered the public school system, they would've wanted some sort of confirmation of immunity.

I do remember remembering having had measles, but only fuzzily, and I don't directly remember the experience. So I didn't want to rely on that.

Anyway, finally heard from the doctor directly late this afternoon, after a long and frustrating day of phone tag and missed calls and my phone misbehaving and so on. He said that given what I'd told him about unlikelihood of exposure and likelihood of immunity, there was no reason for me to cancel my travel plans for next weekend. So I think I'm gonna proceed on the assumption that I am in fact immune, and hope that the test results confirm that when they arrive. (And if I'm not, then I'll get the vaccine next week.)

Thida: Yeah, I sort of wanted to find a compact way of saying to people, "If you know that you had the vaccine (ideally twice) and/or measles, and are therefore immune, then I'd be happy to hug you/shake hands/whatever," but that seemed too convoluted, so I settled for just telling most people it was possible I had something contagious.


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