The Measles Outbreak: 8 Facts You Need to Know

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

Measles has spread to 28 states and infected more than 1,022 people since the start of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of cases rose by 41 in the last week alone, and they're centered in several localized zones. The largest number of cases have occurred in New Jersey and New York; in fact, minors without the MMR vaccine were banned from public places in Rockland County, New York, for about two weeks this spring. Washington had also declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.

So far, 2019 has experienced the largest measles outbreak since 1992. And the CDC worries that summer camps and travel plans will further spread measles – which is why everyone should check their vaccination status before traveling. 

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. But given the recent measles outbreak, the New York State Department of Health recommends a vaccination at six months in affected areas. 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. FACT - Until the profitable measles vaccine came along, measles was like other diseases, not killing anyone for one reason alone, improved water and air and food and domicile sanitation in the United States. By the 50's and 60's measles was a '3 day off from school' celebration. I had measles; as did all of my cousins and siblings.. and we all got over it handily. My son had naturally occurring measles in 2003 when he was 4. He got over it easily. Then he had naturally occurring chicken pox, and JUST as we all did in our youth, got over that also in 4 days. That was 16 years ago.. he hasn't been sick one day since. No ear infections ever. No colds, flu, strep, nothing. In 16 years, because the Measles and Chicken pox did their job, and his immune system is stellar. All his vaccinated cousins get sick with everything that goes around. Then there are a few that have severe allergies or other auto immune diseases, which are the real epidemic in the USA. Thanks to the vaccine madness which denies a child a chance to develop his only true defense, an immune system.

    1. I'm vaccinated and I've had great health in my 41 yrs. I'm rarely sick, even when others in my house are. Your argument doesn't hold.

    2. I’m happy you got over your cases of chickenpox and measles. I too had them when I was a child and got over mine. Sadly, though, I was in the fourth grade when I joined my classmates in singing at the funeral of a 2nd grader whose brother was in my class. She died after contracting chicken pox. For the rest of my life I will see the faces of those 2 parents walking behind a casket smaller than any I have ever seen again in my life. When the chicken pox vaccine came out, you better believe my three girls got it! One ended up contracting a slight case any way (but she was older than the other two when she got the vaccine). The other two have never had it. And one is now studying to be a pharmacist herself. She is sickened by the people that won’t vaccinate. So, please, don’t just assume that everyone just “gets over it”. Some actually die!

    3. Yes, parallel, it is a FACT! I and my sib and the kids in the neighborhood, all got measles. It is as you say, we had a week or so off of school and we are as healthy "as oxes". Later my sibling and I also got the chicken pox, same scenario, we got it, got over it, moved on. When she was raising her family, my grandmother told me that when one of the neighborhood children got the measles, the parents would bring the their kids to the infected house to expose them to it TO BUILD THEIR IMMUNITY. It was common knowledge back then that this is the way the body works. It is a FACT and nothing has changed since that time except the scare tactics big pharma, supported by the media and the medical community, now use.

    4. Poppycock. I had measles as a child, several times, and I still have ear infections, colds and flu. So your theory is unproven and probably dangerous since I heard no mention of a medical degree in immunology.

  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. Yes. The kids with $100 tickets to Disneyland and anybody eating the standard American diet is in very bad shape no matter how much money they have.

    2. In terms of your question about why we aren't seeing endemic measles. The short answer is herd immunity. In the piece above she mentions 5% of individuals loosing immunity. For herd immunity to work with measles we like to have 95% of the population immune. So if we vaccinate almost everyone and have about 5% who loose immunity that put us pretty close to the 95% number. Sure there will be a portion that medically can't be vaccinated like the very young, those who are allergic to it, have compromised immune systems, etc. We still should be close enough. The danger comes when we have large pockets of folks who aren't vaccinated which is what we are seeing now with the outbreaks. Also really important to have the kiddos vaccinated as they are much better at spreading disease than adults are.

    3. Actually she is underplaying the complications a bit. She's not talked at all about the immune amnesia that measles causes. Here's a link for looking into it. They cite a recent study published in Science.

    4. 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?

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

    6. 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. These nonmedical people need to STOP spreading misinformation. Their false theories are the reason that a deadly disease is on the rise. Please vaccinate your children!! You are NOT the expert. Stop thinking that you are.

    1. Deadly under what circumstances?
      Read a bit to find out that those diseases don’t kill by themselves unless there’s a severe scenario of malnutrition or other health problems simultaneously. I was not a strong healthy child and I got so many diseases, all of them hit pretty hard and now I barely get sick at all. To die of chickenpox or measles requires more than just chickenpox or measles. And by the way, how do you know there aren’t any doctors writing those comments?

    2. CONCLUSIONS: First MMRV vaccine dose in children aged 10-24 months was associated with an elevated risk of seizure or febrile seizure. Further post-marketing restudies based on more rigorous study design are needed to confirm the findings.

      This is a direct quote from that study.

  4. It is ludicrous to state that the measles outbreak in NY is linked to people visiting Israel. Israel has one of the highest immunization rates in the world. Babies are routinely vaccinated, and children are vaccinated for free in school You should apologize to the Jewish Orthodox community.
    Routine vaccines provided for babies and children
    The vaccines currently provided for babies and children at Tipat Halav family care centers as part of the routine vaccination program are:
    Vaccine against Diphtheria-Tetanus-Whooping cough + Haemophilus influenzae type B + Polio [DTaP-Hib-IPV] (Hebrew)
    Vaccine against Measles-Mumps-Rubella (German measles) + Varicella (chicken pox) [MMRV]
    Vaccine against pneumococcus bacteria [PCV]
    Vaccine against Hepatitis B
    Vaccine against Hepatitis A
    Vaccine against Rotavirus

    The vaccines given at school are:
    In 1st grade: Vaccine against Measles-Mumps-Rubella (German measles) - Varicella (chicken pox) [MMRV]

    1. Agreed! This is so disrespectful to the Jewish community! I’m not Jewish but I’m so mad with this article. I’m not reading anything from anymore.

  5. Educate before you vaccinate!!

    1. Agreed, Stephanieolney! Educate yourself, unless of course, you are just adamantly opposed to being your own (or your children's) advocate and/or have a problem with questioning things when it comes to your health. I Had C Pox and Measles, same as the other children I went to school with and lived in the neighborhood with. The hysteria over it is ridiculous. Also, who in their right mind thinks children, starting as babies, and up to age 18 need 72 doses of vaccine/s? The only people who think it is safe are people who profit from it and people who believe everything a profiteer tells them. For the record, I am not an anti vaxxer. I am for logic, reason and sanity when it comes to dosing for the truly needed vaccines and the sheer number of unnecessary ones.

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

    3. @13177579DW
      You really think people are that naive. Geez and you reference one article one doctor posted. Great job of research there

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

    5. 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?

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

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

    1. Here is a direct quote from said study:

      CONCLUSIONS: First MMRV vaccine dose in children aged 10-24 months was associated with an elevated risk of seizure or febrile seizure. Further post-marketing restudies based on more rigorous study design are needed to confirm the findings.

    2. Go vaccinate your kids. Please and thank you!!!

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

    4. 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.

    5. 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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