How Could Seven of My Vaccinated Kids Have the Measles Right Now?

Seven vaccinated kids with measles?!?

But doesn’t the measles rash typically show up after three to five days of fever?

Wait, that couldn’t really happen, could it? Seven vaccinated kids with measles in one family?

How Could Seven of My Vaccinated Kids Have the Measles Right Now?

While anything is possible, this story is very improbable once you look at the details…

“When her 12-year-old son spiked a fever and started complaining of a sore throat right before Passover, Mrs. Pearl (not her real name) wasn’t worried. She confidently crossed off a host of possible infections that he was fully vaccinated for.

She thought he had strep throat, like two of his siblings.

They headed to urgent care for a rapid strep test, but the result was negative. Undeterred, she put her son on antibiotics at the nurse’s recommendation, and sent her son to bed.

He’d worsened by morning.

He woke feeling feverish and broken out in a rash.”

Jennifer Margulis

Could that be measles?

He ended up testing positive for measles, even though he was fully vaccinated. Only two days of fever before he developed his rash though, and no word that the fever continued, as you would expect with measles…

“Not long after, Mrs. Pearl’s 10-year-old broke out in a similar rash.

This child didn’t spike a fever but his breathing was labored and he complained that his eyes hurt.

He also tested positive for the measles.”

Jennifer Margulis

Although they all could have been exposed to someone else, it is important to note that the incubation period for measles is 7 to 14 days. The “not long after” scenario sounds like too short a time to get “measles” from his brother. Also, no fever, which would be very strange for measles…

But the other five kids had more classic symptoms of measles, right?

Nope.

“Of the seven other children that Mrs. Pearl had tested—all of whom had been fully vaccinated—five more showed no immunity to measles.”

Jennifer Margulis

What about the negative titer tests?

That’s actually not unusual after measles vaccination. It’s not proof or any kind of indication that the vaccine didn’t work. It has been long known that most vaccinated people who have negative measles titers will show an anamnestic immune response if they get another dose of MMR.

What does that mean? It means that they were likely immune, even with the negative titer.

“In the event that a HCP who has 2 documented doses of MMR vaccine is tested serologically and determined to have negative or equivocal measles titer results, it is not recommended that the person receive an additional dose of MMR vaccine. Such persons should be considered to have presumptive evidence of measles immunity. Documented age-appropriate vaccination supersedes the results of subsequent serologic testing.”

Immunization of Health-Care Personnel: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

In fact, we don’t routinely check titers after MMR, at least not for measles.

And their symptoms?

“Two hours after getting the MMR booster, Mrs. Pearl’s 16-year-old spiked a 102-degree fever and broke out in a measles rash.

Four days later her three other children, all of whom had received the MMR booster, all had measles rashes, canker sores in their mouths, gastrointestinal problems, and lethargy.”

Jennifer Margulis

Canker sores with measles? Kids with measles get Koplik spots, but no one describes them as canker sores.

Fever and a rash developing at the same time?

Yeah, none of that sounds like measles. At all.

Remember, the classic symptoms of measles include 3 to 5 days of a high fever with cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis, followed by a rash, with continued fever.

“According to Mrs. Pearl, the health department official also told her that measles vaccine failure is common and that about half the people getting measles in the current measles clusters in Brooklyn are fully vaccinated.”

Jennifer Margulis

Actually, only 27 of the 566 people in Brooklyn with measles have been known to be fully vaccinated, with two doses of MMR. How much less than half is that? It is less than 5% of cases.

Measles vaccine failure is not common at all.

Why Did They Say That Seven of My Vaccinated Kids Have Measles?

So how do you explain what happened to this family?

Besides the likelihood that they had another, more common virus causing their symptoms? With mouth ulcers and diarrhea, like maybe Coxsackie virus?

Do you really need another explanation?

How do you explain the positive measles tests?

They were almost certainly a false positive.

“The test kits in use have been shown to have high sensitivity and specificity. However, cross-reactions with other viral diseases, e.g. rubella and Parvovirus, may occur.”

Dietz et al on The laboratory confirmation of suspected measles cases in settings of low measles transmission: conclusions from the experience in the Americas.

They didn’t state which test was done, but it is important to note that several are available. This includes an immunoglobulin test, PCR from a throat swab, and PCR from a urine specimen. The most accurate testing is done by the CDC.

“Detection of specific IgM antibodies in a serum sample collected within the first few days of rash onset can provide presumptive evidence of a current or recent measles virus infection. However, because no assay is 100% specific, serologic testing of non-measles cases using any assay will occasionally produce false positive IgM results.”

Serologic Testing for Measles in Low Prevalence Setting

Did they have confirmatory tests, after their initial positive test? Were they done at a state lab? Did all of her other kids test positive for measles?

“She’s angry at the measles vaccine failure and worried about her family members, especially her pregnant daughter.”

Jennifer Margulis

She should be angry at folks pushing misininformation in her community.

“I used to think people who don’t vaccinate were crazy,” Mrs. Pearl says. “Now I’m not so sure. Maybe they’re right. Maybe my body doesn’t want to take garbage. Something is a red flag. After my story, I’m not so sure where the measles started. I’m legit. I did vaccinate. All my kids are up to date. Children ages 22 to 7 all getting the measles?”

Jennifer Margulis

Something is indeed a red flag. To get to the bottom of it, Mrs. Pearl should revisit the idea that her kids really had measles.

More on Vaccinated Kids with Measles

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