Measles - Are you at risk?

Sticky hands on public places

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What is measles?

Measles is an infectious viral disease which begins with a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). A rash starts on the face and upper neck, spreads down the back and trunk, then extends to the arms and hands, as well as the legs and feet. After about 5 days, the rash fades in the same order in which it appeared.

Measles is highly contagious.

  • An infected person can spread measles to others even before he or she develops symptoms—from four days before they develop the measles rash through four days afterward.
  • The measles virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat of infected people. When they sneeze or cough, droplets spray into the air. These droplets can infect others for up to 2 hours after the person with measles leaves the room.

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Can I die if I get this disease?

YES! 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care.

Measles can cause serious health complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis, and even death. Children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are at high risk of getting a serious case of measles. About 1 in 4 unvaccinated people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized; 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling (encephalitis).

Do you know if you were vaccinated as a child? Ask your parents or caregivers for more information.

Is Measles still common in the US even though it was eliminated in 2000?


  • Before the U.S. measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3-4 million people in the U.S. got measles each year; 400-500 of them died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 suffered encephalitis (brain swelling) due to measles.
  • Widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases in the United States compared with the pre-vaccine era.
  • Measles is still common in other countries, and measles cases continue to be brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) who get measles while they are in other countries. Measles is highly contagious, so anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of getting the disease.
  • People who are unvaccinated for any reason, including those who refuse vaccination, risk getting infected with measles and spreading it to others, including those who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or have specific health conditions.
  • If vaccinations were stopped, measles cases would return to pre-vaccine levels and hundreds of people would die in the U.S. from measles-related illnesses.
  • Measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 (elimination is defined as the interruption of continuous measles transmission lasting more than 12 months).
  • Since elimination was declared in 2000, the annual number of people reported to have measles ranged from a low of 37 people in 2004 to a high of 668 people in 2014.

In 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014, there were more reported measles cases compared with previous years. CDC experts attribute this to outbreaks of measles occurring in countries to which Americans often travel because each year unvaccinated travelers get measles while abroad, then bring the virus back to the U.S. There was also more spread of the measles virus in recent years since individuals who opt out of vaccine tend to cluster in groups. These groups of susceptible individuals then accumulate and age over time. This makes them susceptible to outbreaks when someone brings the virus into the group from abroad.

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How can you protect those who cannot be vaccinated?

Herd Immunity

Herd Immunity helps those who cannot be vaccinated, such as

  • very young children,
  • elderly and frail adults,
  • persons with immune system deficits.

Highly contagious diseases - vaccination rate might need to be 80% to 95% (herd immunity threshold.)


(2015, April 07). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from

Herd Immunity — History of Vaccines. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from

Measles. (n.d.). Retrieved April 28, 2015, from