What is Measles?
Measles is caused by a virus that grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. The disease spreads quickly and can be serious or even fatal for small children. Measles spreads when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes. People can catch measles just by being in a room where an infected person has been, even up to 2 hours after that person is gone. Almost everyone who has not been vaccinated will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus. Symptoms of measles typically include fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes, sensitivity to light, tiny white spots inside the mouth, and a skin rash made up of large, flat blotches.The rash usually starts on the head and then spreads to the rest of the body.
Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. As many as 1 out every 20 children with measles get pneumonia and about 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). For every 1,000 children who get measles in a developed country like the United States, 1 to 3 of them die, despite the best treatment
Measles continues to be a common disease in many parts of the world including some countries in Europe. According to the CDC, there are currently a record number of measles cases in the U.S. In 2014, there were almost 650 cases of measles reported to the CDC, and in 2015, measles cases continue to be reported. Almost all measles cases have been associated with importations from other countries. The most frequent sources of importations were unvaccinated U.S. travelers returning from abroad and transmitting the disease among groups of unvaccinated individuals, mostly unvaccinated due to philosophical or religious beliefs. For the most updated outbreak information, visit the CDC's measles webpage.
The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is the currently recommended vaccine to protect against measles. For the best protection, children need two doses of the vaccine. The first dose is recommended between 12-15 months of age and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age. For younger children traveling internationally, the MMR vaccine may be given as early as 6 months of age. However, children who get the shot between 6-11 months of age will still need to get two more doses of the vaccine. MMRV, which protects against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella, is also available.
One dose of MMR vaccine is approximately 93% effective at preventing measles and two doses are approximately 97% effective.
Students at post-high school educational institutions (e.g., college, vocational school, etc.) who have not already received 2 appropriately-spaced doses of MMR vaccine and who don’t have evidence of immunity need 2 doses of the MMR vaccine.
Adults born after 1957 who have not had the measles or the MMR vaccine (and don’t show evidence of immunity) should receive at least 1 dose of the MMR vaccine. Healthcare personnel and childcare providers need to receive 2 doses of MMR vaccine if they don’t have evidence of immunity from measles. Pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals should not receive the MMR vaccine.
All people 6 months of age and older who will be traveling internationally should make sure they protected against measles.