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5 things to know about measles right now

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. So why is the current outbreak happening?


  1. The vaccine for measles, a highly contagious respiratory disease, was developed in the 1960s, and since then, the U.S. has seen a dramatic drop in the number of cases reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it eliminated: the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. But measles is still a threat around the globe, and can be brought to the U.S. by travelers. And a new outbreak linked to visits to Disney theme parks in California is causing concern.
  2. 2014 saw a record number of measles cases, with 644 reported in 27 states. And in just the first 30 days of 2015, more than 100 new measles cases were reported. If measles was eliminated more than a decade ago, what's the deal with the current outbreak?
  3. 1. Measles is wildly contagious.

  4. It helps to know what measles is to understand why it is. Part of the issue is that it is caused by a virus that is spread through the air by sneezing and coughing. So unlike Ebola, in which you need to interact with the bodily fluids of an infected and symptomatic person to get the disease, measles can affect anyone near an infected person.
  5. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes measles symptoms this way: "Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat, and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. About three out of 10 people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections or diarrhea."
  6. 2. Measles can be deadly.

  7. "In the decade before 1963 when a vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age," according to CDC. "It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year." An estimated 400 to 500 people died each year pre-vaccine.
  8. The World Health Organization reports that measles vaccination resulted in a 75 percent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide. And yet, about 145,700 people died from measles in 2013. Most were children 5 and younger. CDC reports that complications of the disease can include ear infection, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death.
  9. 3. The measles vaccine is widely available in the U.S.

  10. In the U.S., the vaccine typically comes in a shot that also contains vaccinations for mumps and rubella, two other diseases that often strike in childhood. The measles-mumps-rubella shot, or MMR, is given to children once they are about a year old, and again between ages 4 and 6.
  11. Even parents who cannot afford the MMR vaccine for their children can get their kids covered at no cost, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. And yet, WHO reports that only 91 percent of 1-year-olds in America are vaccinated. That's lower than many other countries globally that have reached 99 percent, including Thailand, South Korea, Qatar, Morocco and the Czech Republic. It's also lower than goals set by Healthy People 2020, which calls for 95 percent of U.S. kindergartners to be fully vaccinated.
  12. 4. Herd immunity matters.

  13. Some people are unable to get the MMR vaccine because of health issues. Others choose not to vaccinate their children because of fears, some of which are based on a debunked and later retracted study that erroneously linked the vaccine to autism.
  14. Vaccinating as many people as possible is what keeps the disease from coming back, particularly against those who are too young or sick to be vaccinated themselves, including babies. A recent measles outbreak affecting five babies in a Chicago day care is evidence of how important herd immunity is.
  15. On occasion, some people who get vaccinated still get measles. Most likely, that is because they only got one dose of the two-dose vaccine. It is important to get both. And if you do not know if you got the second dose as an adult, there's no harm in getting another dose, just in case, according to CDC.
  16. 5. Vaccines eradicate diseases.

  17. In the U.S., polio is a disease of the past. Smallpox was declared eradicated globally, too. But polio is still a threat in some parts of the world, so vaccination campaigns continue. We live in a global community, and we know diseases can spread all too quickly.
  18. The steps you can take to keep yourself and your community healthy are simple, and so important in promoting public health. Vaccinations are the safest way to stop deadly diseases before they spread.