If you and your child are traveling abroad this summer, your passports aren’t the only things that will need to be up to date. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that each year, over a million children visit another country. These young travelers can be at risk of infectious disease, especially if their vaccine history was not reviewed and updated. Prior to international travel, the CDC recommends children ages 6-11 months receive one dose of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Children 12 months and older should get two doses of the MMR vaccine given 28 days apart before departing for travel.
The traditional schedule of MMR vaccine begins between 12 and 15 months with a booster at 4 or 6 years, depending on when the child begins school. It is important to note that the rules for MMR vaccination are different for international travelers because the U.S. is seeing a rise in imported measles cases, or cases that originate in another country. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but imported cases continue to occur among U.S. travelers returning from areas of the world where measles is widespread. In fact, according to a CDC report, the seven young children who contracted measles in early 2011 had all traveled abroad and none had received the recommended MMR vaccines before traveling. Three of those children required hospitalization.
Measles is a contagious virus, spread through coughing and sneezing. Travelers in close proximity, like in an airport or airplane, can be easily exposed to the virus. Symptoms develop about two weeks after the child is first exposed. Runny nose, sore throat, cough with a slight fever and red eyes appear first. A few days after those symptoms, white spots can appear in the mouth, followed by a reddish brown rash. Alert your doctor if these symptoms occur after returning home.
Take the time to ask your health care provider for further information on the specific vaccines and preparations related to the countries you and your child plan to visit. After all, the only thing you want to return home with is wonderful memories and scenic photographs.