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Here’s Why Measles Is Back

  • Category: LiveSmart
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  • Written By: Baldwin

Infographic about measles

If your child is not vaccinated against measles, they may unknowingly be exposed and get sick.

Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. It had become nonexistent in the United States in 2000 due to high vaccination rates against measles starting in the 1960's, but fewer people are vaccinating their children against this disease now. Depending on your age, you may have received a measles vaccine on its own or as part of the MMR vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella in addition to measles.

Although the disease was eradicated in the U.S., there are still cases of measles in other parts of the world. With fewer people being vaccinated now (mostly children), there is more potential for illness if an unvaccinated person comes in contact with someone who has this disease. Even if people don't travel to countries with active measles outbreaks, they may unknowingly be exposed to someone else who has. This has caused an uptick in measles cases across the U.S. in recent years.

How many cases of measles have there been in the U.S.?

Here are the number of measles cases reported in the U.S. in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • 2024: 9 (as of January 25, 2024)
  • 2023: 58
  • 2022: 121
  • 2021: 49
  • 2020: 13
  • 2019: 1274

This may not seem like a lot of cases, but the disease can be severe and had been previously eradicated so any number of cases is concerning.

What happens when you have measles?

Most symptoms of measles are similar to other respiratory illnesses and include a cough, runny nose, congestion and red, watery eyes. You may get a very high fever. People with measles also typically have a unique rash, with flat red spots that first appear on the face and then on the chest, trunk, arms and legs. Measles may lead to serious complications, especially in very young children or people with weak immune systems. This may include pneumonia, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) and even blindness. It may also lower the immune system's ability to fight other infections.

How contagious is measles?

The measles virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can linger in the air or live on surfaces people touch for up to two hours after this occurs. One reason it spreads so easily is that a person may not know they have the virus for days. It can take 3 to 5 days for the telltale rash to appear after developing other symptoms, which can easily be attributed to common respiratory viruses. During that time, an infected person may be walking around spreading this very infectious virus.

When should children get vaccinated against measles?

To protect your child against measles, the CDC recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella. The first dose should be received between 12 to 15 months of age. The second dose should be completed between 4 and 6 years of age.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 16, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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