The 2019 Measles Outbreak: 5 Things to Know

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Young Caucasian toddler boy getting vaccine shot in arm

Measles continues to make headlines this year as the number of individual cases increases throughout the country. In fact, during the month of January, 79 individual cases were confirmed in 10 states.

These recent measles outbreaks have reinforced the importance of the measles vaccine as anti-vaccination campaigns have reduced the number of children vaccinated against measles. Find out what the CDC is doing about the current outbreak and what parents should do if they spot the measles rash and other measles symptoms.

1. The measles outbreaks are taking place nationwide.

The states reporting confirmed cases of the measles are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Outbreaks–defined as three or more cases–have been reported in New York state, New York City and Washington state. According to the CDC, these specific outbreaks are associated with travelers returning with the disease from Israel and Ukraine, with the majority of people being unvaccinated. If you have not received the measles vaccine and plan to travel overseas, you should check with the CDC to see where measles outbreaks are occurring, and, possibly, get a vaccine beforehand.

2. Measles is airborne and highly contagious.

Measles spreads through the air any time an infected person coughs or sneezes because it lives in the nose and throat mucus of those infected. Once airborne, the measles virus can live for up to two hours. Therefore, if others breathe in that air or touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eyes, noses or mouths, they can become infected. Those infected with measles can spread the virus for a period of four days before the measles rash appears through four days after. In fact, according to the CDC, 90% of those people around the infected person who are not immune to the disease will also become infected.

3. Parents should make sure their children are vaccinated.

The best way to prevent contracting measles is by receiving the measles vaccine. The measles vaccine is included in the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. The CDC recommends children get two doses of MMR vaccine, the first at age 12 months through 15 months of age and the second dose at age 4 through 6 years of age. If they have never been vaccinated, teens and adults also should get the vaccine. When receiving one dose, the MMR vaccine is approximately 93% effective, which increases to approximately 97% effective with two doses.

4. Measles symptoms generally appear 7 to 14 days after infection.

In most people, measles starts between 7 and 14 days after exposure with symptoms similar to those of a cold or flu: high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. After 2 to 3 days, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. Finally, 3 to 5 days after symptoms first begin, a rash will appear, usually flat red spots on the face, neck, chest, arms, legs and feet. As the rash breaks out, the fever may spike, reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit or more. The rash will last for a few days, after which it and the fever will begin to subside.

5. Call your doctor if you suspect a measles infection.

If you know you or a family member has been exposed to a person infected with the measles, call your doctor right away. Your doctor will review your records and the possibility of infection. If necessary, you may need to go in for further evaluation. If you are diagnosed with measles, the CDC recommends you stay home for four days after the rash appears.

To help contain the virus, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, then immediately discard the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and do not share drinks, food or dishes. Thoroughly disinfect all surfaces, toys, dishes and other areas that you touch. Talk with your doctor to determine when you are no longer infected.

While measles remains an unpleasant disease, the good news is it is preventable. The best prevention for contracting measles is by receiving the measles vaccine.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Feb 11
  1. Measles Cases and Outbreaks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html
  2. Transmission of Measles. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/transmission.html
  3. Measles Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/vaccination.html
  4. Top 4 Things Parents Need to Know About Measles. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/parents-top4.html
  5. Signs and Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/signs-symptoms.html
  6. Frequently Asked Questions About Measles in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html
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