Cases of measles have been very much in the news: 121 cases (as of today) reported in the U.S. this year. To assess how much myeloma patients might need to be concerned or not, it is helpful to put this number of cases in perspective.
Since 2001 in the U.S., there have been up to 220 cases a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During January through August 2013 (a year from which data have been analyzed), there were 159 cases, of which 157 were linked to exposures occurring outside the US (in particular, from Europe). Of note, since October 2014, there have been more than 300 measles cases in Germany linked to visitors and immigrants from Bosnia and the Middle East. In 2001, there were over 6,000 cases of measles in Germany. Other sources of measles are from China and the Philippines. The controversy in the US is that although the measles vaccination rate overall is 91%, “pockets” of unvaccinated children can lead to local clusters of cases.
As for myeloma patients, the vaccination rates are high. In fact, during assessment for the measles virotherapy trial at the Mayo Clinic, in which a massive dose of engineered measles vaccine is administered to treat the myeloma, it was noted that a majority of myeloma patients have robust measles antibody levels in their blood and definitely do not need revaccination.
Cases of measles among myeloma patients are actually extraordinarily rare: I have never seen or even heard of a case. It thus seems that although the immune system of myeloma patients is compromised, measles is not a particular risk.
Anyone born in the U.S. (or most developed countries) before 1957, which is the majority of myeloma patients, will have had the standard two or more doses measles vaccination. There is a 90-95% likelihood that myeloma patients will have 95-99% protection against measles. Since the measles vaccine is a live virus vaccine, revaccination is not recommended especially for patients on active therapy for myeloma. Anyone taking prednisone or dexamethasone should definitely not have measles revaccination.
So what is recommended? The main thing is to limit exposure right now in crowded places and also avoid visiting or spending time at any daycare center where unvaccinated children can contribute to local clusters. The risks are very low for myeloma patients overall. So, be vigilant as always with regard to fever and any indication of infection – but most likely it is not going to be measles!
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.