In 2019, 1,282 cases of measles in 31 states were reported to the CDC. This is the greatest number of cases in the U.S. since 1992 when 963 cases were reported for the entire year. Of those who got measles in 2019, 128 were hospitalized and 61 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.
2019 outbreaks in the U.S. were due to:
- An increase in the number of unvaccinated travelers who got measles abroad and brought it back with them to the U.S.
- Further spread of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.
- Inaccurate and misleading information about vaccines leading people not to vaccinate against measles.
In 2020, there were 13 confirmed cases measles in the U.S. So far in 2021, there have been no measles cases reported. Visit the CDC website for more information.
Measles is Serious
Some people think of measles as just a rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but the fact is that measles can cause serious health complications, especially in:
- Children younger than 5 years old
- Adults over 20 years old
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immune systems
The disease kills hundreds of thousands of children each year around the world, most under the age of 5. There is no way to tell in advance how severe your child’s symptoms will be.
- About 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized.
- As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
- 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage
- 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care.
- Measles may cause pregnant women who have not got the MMR vaccine to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.
Measles is Very Contagious
Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. A person with measles can be contagious 4 days BEFORE their rash develops. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 9 of 10 people around them will also become infected if they are not protected.
Measles signs and symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Signs and symptoms of measles typically include:
- High fever
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- A skin rash of tiny red spots that starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body
- Ear infection
Download this handout from CDC, AAP and AAFP that lists the symptoms of measles.
If you suspect you or one of your family members has been exposed to measles, do not go to your doctor or healthcare provider. Instead, call them and explain the situation. Measles is highly contagious, and you could infect others in the waiting room and/or while traveling to and from the doctor’s office, if you have been exposed to the disease. Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you the next steps to take to protect yourself, your family and your community.
Babies and Children
For the best protection against measles, your children need to receive the two recommended doses of the MMR vaccine. One dose of MMR vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles, and two doses are about 97% effective. The first dose should be given between 12 and 15 months and the second dose should be given between 4 and 6 years of age. Children can receive the second dose earlier, as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.
According to CDC, if there are many measles cases occurring among infants younger than 12 months old in your community, your local immunization program and/or healthcare provider may recommend MMR vaccination of infants as young as 6 months old, as a way to control the outbreak. Please note that children vaccinated before their first birthday still need two more doses of MMR vaccine (one dose at 12 -15 months of age and a second dose at least 28 days later).
MMR vaccine is given later than some other childhood vaccines because antibodies transferred from mom to baby can provide some protection from disease and make the MMR vaccine less effective until about 1 year of age.
If you are traveling internationally with children, please see the CDC’s recommendations below.
According to the CDC, if you were born after 1957, you need at least 1 dose of measles vaccine vaccine, UNLESS a laboratory confirmed that you had past measles infection or are immune to measles.
Certain adults may need 2 doses of MMR vaccine, including:
- students at post-high school education institutions
- healthcare personnel
- international travelers
- people who public health authorities determine are at increased risk for getting measles during a measles outbreak
If you’re not sure whether you are up to date on measles vaccination, talk with your healthcare provider.
What if I received the “killed” version of the measles vaccine in the 1960s?
According to the CDC, if you know that you got the “killed” version of the measles vaccine (an earlier formulation of measles vaccine that is no longer used) in the 1960s, you should talk to your doctor about getting revaccinated with the current, live MMR vaccine. Not many people fall into this group; the “killed” version of the vaccine was given to less than 1 million people between 1963 and 1968. Also, most people don’t know if they got the killed vaccine during this time. If you’re unsure whether you fall into this group, you could ask your doctor to test your blood to determine whether you’re immune. Or you can just get a dose of MMR vaccine. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine, even if you are already immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).
What if I’m unsure whether I am immune to measles?
If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. Another option is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re immune, but this option will take two doctor’s visits. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine, even if you are already immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).
Do I Need a MMR Booster Shot?
No. If you got two doses of measles/MMR vaccine as a child, according to the U.S. vaccination schedule, the CDC considers you to be protected for life against measles. Again, if you’re not sure whether you are fully vaccinated, talk with your doctor.
If You are a Healthcare Provider
The CDC states that healthcare personnel should have documented evidence of immunity, according to the recommendations of the ACIP. Healthcare personnel without evidence of immunity should get 2 doses of MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days.
International Travelers (All ages)
People 6 months of age and older who will be traveling internationally should be protected against measles. Before any international travel, the CDC recommends:
- Infants 6 through 11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR vaccine. Infants who get one dose of MMR vaccine before their first birthday still need two more doses at the regularly recommended ages
- Children 12 months of age and older should receive two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days.
- Teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days.
To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.