10 Facts You Need to Know About the Measles Outbreak

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Since the beginning of 2015, the measles have infected more than 150 people from 17 states, with many cases stemming from an outbreak that originated at Disneyland in California and prompting the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to issue a press release urging all parents to vaccinate their children. Read on to find out what you need to know about this recent measles outbreak, the safety and effectiveness of the measles vaccine, and other steps you can take to protect your family.
Doctor examining little girl at hospital
The Seriousness of the Current Outbreak
Between 2001 and 2011, the average number of measles cases reported in the United States per year was 62. There were 644 reported cases of measles in 2014 — the highest number of cases since 2000. This year, there have already been 102 reported cases across 14 states, making the number of cases so far in 2015 higher than the number of cases the U.S. typically sees in an entire year. The outbreak that originated at Disneyland represents 92 percent of the reported cases this year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, before the live measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, the average number of cases per year was 549,000. After the one-shot vaccine was introduced, the number of measles cases dropped significantly. There was a resurgence of the disease from 1989 to 1991, during which 55,000 people were affected. Although most were unvaccinated, some people with the vaccine also got the disease, leading the medical community to recommend the two dose regimen. Since that regimen was introduced, measles cases have been dramatically reduced, leading the U.S. to declare in 2000 that endemic measles were "eliminated."

In other words, if your child is vaccinated, you do not need to be concerned. Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says, "This is not a problem with the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used."

Diverse group of kids
Measles Is Highly Contagious
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known — an unvaccinated person has a 90 percent chance of getting the disease if exposed to it. Measles is a virus that is mainly spread through direct contact with airborne respiratory droplets. For example, if a contagious person breathes, coughs, or sneezes near someone who is susceptible, the susceptible person has a very high chance of catching it. Measles can remain in the air in a room where a contagious person was for up to two hours after they have left.
Little girl coughing and getting examined by doctor
Measles Is Serious
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for every 1,000 children who get measles in a developed country, like the U.S., 1 to 3 will die from it. On average, 1 out of 4 people with the disease is hospitalized. Measles is a respiratory illness and can cause pneumonia, ear infections, brain inflammation, deafness, and in some cases, death.
Sick little girl sneezing in bed
Measles Is Hard to Diagnose Early
Early symptoms of measles are fever, coughing, red eyes, and runny nose — very similar to a cold. It isn't until three to five days after these symptoms begin that the tell-tale rash breaks out, beginning on the head and spreading downward.
Happy smiling family with baby
You Can Still Contract Measles Even if You Don't Travel Internationally
While safe vaccines have made measles rare in the U.S., the CDC says it still causes about 164,000 deaths worldwide every year. The World Health Organization urges parents to remember the global picture when considering the contagiousness of this disease. Unvaccinated and potentially contagious people can travel to the U.S. and expose your family to the measles. Do not assume that your unvaccinated child has no chance of getting the disease just because you don't travel outside the country.
Asian girl getting vaccinated at doctors office
The Vaccine Is Effective
The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is more than 95 percent effective at preventing measles after the first dose, and 99 percent effective after the second dose, so if your child has been vaccinated, there is an extremely low chance he will contract the virus. The CDC recommends children receive their first dose between 12 and 15 months, and a second dose between 4 and 6 years. If you are unsure if your child is up to date on his shots, call his pediatrician.

Infants between 6 and 11 months should receive one dose of the MMR vaccine if they will be traveling internationally. This dose does not count toward the routine series.

Young boy getting vaccine
The Vaccine Is Safe
According to the CDC, most children do not experience any side effects from the MMR vaccine. Any side effects that do occur are usually very mild, and may include fever, rash, and joint stiffness.

More serious side effects, such as high fever and seizures, are very rare and occur in about 1 in 3,000 people who get the shot.

Diverse group of school kids
The Vaccine Does Not Cause Autism
Some parents believe the vaccine causes autism due to a fraudulent study by Andrew Wakefield. Although that study has been debunked, it has still led a whole subset of parents to not vaccinate their children. According to the CDC, the link between autism and vaccines has been studied since 1998, and no reputable study or scientist in the U.S. or other country has found a link between autism and vaccines.

Visit the CDC's "Learn the Signs, Act Early" website to learn more about childhood development, and talk to your child's doctor if you have any concerns.

Happy child visiting doctor
The Vaccine Protects Even After Exposure
If your child is unvaccinated and is exposed to measles, the MMR vaccine can protect your child if he gets a shot less than 72 hours after exposure.
Close up of African American baby
Very Young Babies Are Protected
According to Kids Health from Nemours, babies under 6 months of age are protected from measles by maternal antibodies that they received in the womb, as long as the mother has been vaccinated or had the measles infection at some point in her life. Antibodies can also be passed through breastmilk.

It's important to know that while the antibodies offer some protection, they aren't fail-proof. Educate yourself on how much protection the antibodies offer, and for how long, to ensure your baby's safety.