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In an outbreak of measles in Gothenburg, Sweden, breakthrough infections (i.e. infections in individuals with a history of vaccination) were common. The objective of this study was to compare measles RNA levels between naïve (i.e. primary) and breakthrough infections. We also propose a fast provisional classification of breakthrough infections. Medical records were reviewed and real-time PCR-positive samples genotyped. Cases were classified as naïve, breakthrough or vaccine infections. We compared clinical symptoms and measles RNA cycle threshold (Ct) values between breakthrough and naïve infections. Sixteen of 28 confirmed cases of measles in this outbreak were breakthrough infections. A fast provisional classification, based on previous history of measles vaccination and detectable levels of measles IgG in acute serum, correctly identified 14 of the 16 breakthrough infections, confirmed by IgG avidity testing. Measles viral load was significantly lower in nasopharyngeal samples from individuals with breakthrough compared with naïve infections (median Ct-values: 32 and 19, respectively, p < 0.0001). No onward transmission from breakthrough infections was identified. Our results indicate that a high risk of onward transmission is limited to naïve infections. We propose a fast provisional classification of breakthrough measles that can guide contact tracing in outbreak settings.


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