BU Today

Health & Wellness

University Reacts to Measles Diagnosis

Clinic to offer free vaccination against virus

David McBride, director of Student Health Services.

Boston University Student Health Services is offering free measles vaccinations in response to the diagnosis of the disease last week in a student enrolled in summer classes. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, the infected student, a 20-year-old woman from India, has not attended any classes and is currently recovering in her off-campus home.

BU Today
spoke with David McBride, director of Student Health Services, about what measles is and why it is important to be vaccinated against the virus.  

BU Today:
What is measles?
McBride: Measles used to be a fairly common childhood viral illness for which we’ve immunized people for years. Before 1957, it was nearly as common as the chicken pox is today. While it is primarily a childhood disease, it can also affect adults.  

What are the symptoms?
For most healthy people, it isn’t a fatal disease, but you’re going to be miserable and miss at least two weeks of work. Measles causes high fever, coughing, a runny nose, and eye irritation. But the rash — red dots that start on the face and progress down the body — is the classic hallmark of the virus. Measles is extremely harmful to fetuses.

How is the disease transmitted?

It’s a respiratory virus, so it’s transmitted in droplets — coughing, sneezing, and secretions. The spread of an infectious disease such as measles is a real risk, especially taking into account our accessibility to international travel.
How is the virus prevented?
A vaccination, in the form of a shot, has been available for the past 40 years. If you have had the vaccination, in theory you’re immune. The first measles immunization is usually given between 12 and 15 months of age, so if you haven’t had a second vaccination by the time you’re in college, your immunity to measles can wane. Massachusetts actually requires two MMR — measles, mumps, and rubella — shots, and the second one is typically administered sometime in high school. But keep in mind that no immunization is 100 percent effective. Although uncommon, there have been cases where people who have had the immunization still end up contracting the disease. Students, faculty, and staff members should check their medical records to be sure they have been vaccinated.

Is it true that you are immune to measles if you had it as a child, or as an adult for that matter? Is that what “serologic proof of immunity” means?
You are considered immune if you have had the measles. For the purpose of this case, the clinical report of disease is not accepted by the BPHC as evidence of immunity. Serologic proof of immunity is a blood test showing antibodies against measles infection.

What is BU doing in response to this recent case?

This is serious business. Although it is not an outbreak, any time there is a case of an infectious disease on campus, it needs to be taken seriously. We’re demanding that students who have not provided adequate documentation of vaccination either provide those records or come into the clinic to be immunized. We’re also encouraging faculty and staff members to check with their health-care providers to ensure that they have been vaccinated. If you have not been immunized, you cannot be on campus. While state law demands that students be vaccinated, there is no similar law that says faculty and staff must be immunized. So we’re asking faculty and staff, for their own personal protection, to check to be sure they have been appropriately immunized. We’re offering vaccinations on campus. Normally, the vaccine costs $60, but because of the current situation, we’re offering it for free.

All students must provide the University with immunization records or be vaccinated no later than Tuesday, June 5, 2007. Students who fail to do either will not be allowed to attend classes or live on campus. Call Student Health Services at 617-353-7224 for more information. A free immunization MMR clinic will be offered at the FitRec Center on Monday, June 4, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.