The Measles Outbreak: 8 Facts You Need to Know

To protect your family from measles, learn about the vaccination and risks of exposure.

Measles has spread to 10 states and infected more than 101 people since the start of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In late January, CNN reported that Washington is in "a state of emergency" after 35 cases of measles were confirmed in two counties. And with New York City facing its worst measles outbreak in decades, 29 schools and daycare centers are excluding thousands of unvaccinated kids in an effort to contain the outbreak. 

A highly contagious virus, measles was technically eliminated in America 20 years ago, but the recent uptick has two major causes: international travelers bringing measles into the U.S., and unvaccinated children coming into contact with it. For example, the virus has been hitting New York City's Orthodox Jewish communities, where travelers returning from countries like Israel have infected unvaccinated community members. Since news reports only tell part of the story, here's what concerned parents need to know about the measles outbreak.

Measles is hard to diagnose early.

Just like a cold, early symptoms of measles include fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite. This is soon followed by a cough and red, watery eyes. Only after about three days does the classic rash appear on the head and progress down the body.

Measles is highly contagious.

Infectious measles droplets survive up to two hours after the infected person has left an area. And since the contagious period is long—from four days before a rash appears until four days after—a single infected person can come in contact with hundreds of people.

Measles can cause serious complications.

Measles can lead to pneumonia or ear infections. Most kids recover easily, but in approximately every 1,000 cases, one person will suffer encephalitis (brain inflammation) that causes permanent brain damage. Two to three people per 1,000 cases will die.

The measles vaccine is safe.

A study the February 2015 issue of the journal Pediatrics showed that the measles vaccine is safe. This goes for both forms of the vaccine available in the U.S.: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV). Researchers tracked more than 600,000 1-year-olds over 12 years to confirm the vaccine's safety.

The measles vaccine really works.

The measles vaccine requires one dose at age 12-15 months, and another dose at age 4-6 years, according to the CDC. Ninety-five percent of kids will develop immunity when they get their first vaccination. The second dose before kindergarten gives 99 percent immunity. By contrast, 90 percent of exposed, unvaccinated people will get sick with measles. Immunity can disappear over time and 5 in 100 will lose their immunity by their late teens or adulthood.

The vaccine works even if your child gets it after being exposed to measles.

If your child is exposed and unvaccinated, or hasn't gotten a booster shot, the vaccine protects when given within 72 hours of exposure.

Very young babies are already protected from measles.

Until 6 months, babies are still protected by the antibodies received in Mom's womb. But the antibodies will break down, and by 9 months, your baby becomes vulnerable to measles.

Babies should now be vaccinated before international travel.

Because of increased risk, the AAP and CDC now recommend vaccinating 6- to 12-month-olds if they’re traveling internationally. However, the regular two-shot series after 12 months is still necessary to ensure long-lasting immunity. If an adult isn’t vaccinated, the CDC says they should get two doses of the vaccine before traveling, as long as the doses are separated by a minimum of 28 days. Learn more about the measles vaccine for travelers here.

Which vaccines do kids need and why are they necessary?


  1. Educate before you vaccinate!!

    1. @sarge1005
      If scientists and lab chemists don't have all the answers I doubt a MD who has read a textbook does.

    2. @13177579DW
      You really think people are that naive. Geez and you reference one article one doctor posted. Great job of research there

    3. I think you have that wrong. Educate and then vaccinate!!

    4. Shame on you stephanieolney for spreading misinformation and fear of a clinically proven and safe vaccine. Here is a link to the education of the doctor and author of this article. She has completed years of medical school and is a published author. What credentials do you have since you seem to think that your opinion is more worthy than hers?

    5. The woman that wrote this is an M.D. That's pretty well educated.

  2. Some of the facts here are a little skewed to promote fear. Those complication rates are based on the measles cases that required seeking medical care. It's estimated that 90% of measles cases weren't reported, making the risks a lot lower in well nourished children. Second, the vaccine, like most all vaccines, probably does not confer lifelong immunity. So why aren't we seeing endemic measles?

    1. Shame on you too itzmmmjenny for spreading misinformation and fear of a clinically proven and safe vaccine. Here is a link to the education of the doctor and author of this article. She has completed years of medical school and is a published author. What credentials do you have since you seem to think that your opinion is more worthy than hers?

      Also even if the risk is lower in well nourished kids the risk still exists and it is still a very dangerous risk. And what about the breakout that happened at Disneyland? Are you telling me those kids running around with tickets that cost $100 to get into Disneyland were malnourished and that’s why they caught it? That is laughable. So I want to hear your theory on how that happened?

    2. Got any citations for your "facts?" The article provided plenty of sources. You list none.

    3. Also would like to add, that if parents are going to be this pressured to vaccinate for measles, and to do so repeatedly, then bring back the single measles vaccine that was safer to use. The rubella component causes the vaccine to cause more reactions. They have it in other countries, why can't we have it here?

  3. Please post the link of the 2015 study. Thank you.

    1. It's posted in the comment above. You'll ignore it anyway.

    2. The link that Parents noted was not even a study ... it was a comparison between two MMR vaccines ... therefore it shouldn’t be listed. Just note that there was no actual study conducted in 2015.

    3. Here's the link. But I'm sure you'll find some fault with the info in it anyway. I mean, really, why believe science when the internet, quack docs and celebtities tell you otherwise?

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