The United States is currently experiencing a large, multi-state measles outbreak linked to an amusement park in California. Since the beginning of the year, 121 cases have been reported across 17 states and the District of Columbia. In 2014, the U.S. experienced 23 measles outbreaks and 644 cases, including one large outbreak of 383 cases, occurring primarily among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Many of the cases in the U.S. in 2014 were associated with cases brought in from the Philippines, which experienced a large measles outbreak.
Measles is highly contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ninety percent of people who aren’t immune get sick after being around an infected person. Widespread vaccination led to a decline in measles, and the disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Vaccination has kept the illness at bay. Children are supposed to receive their first dose of measles vaccine at a year to 15 months of age, followed by a second dose between 4 and 6. But according to the CDC, 1 in 12 kids isn’t getting the first dose on time
Measles is caused by a virus, morbillivirus, that’s spread primarily via coughing and sneezing, and is recognizable by its well-known rash, which spreads to cover most of the body. Most people exposed to someone with the measles will get the disease themselves unless they have been vaccinated, or have had measles before. Patients who survive a case of the measles retain immunity to it for life.
Although measles has no treatment or cure, most people who catch it do survive the infection. However, the majority of measles patients will feel extremely sick for approximately one week, and up to 30% will suffer some sort of complication to the disease, ranging from diarrhea, ear infections, or pneumonia to seizures or hearing loss as a result of swelling in the brain. In some areas of the world without widespread access to medical care, up to 5% of children die of the measles.
Pregnant women who have not been vaccinated may also be at risk. A blood test can be performed to determine if a woman is immune to the disease. Women who are not immune and exposed to the disease while pregnant can get an immune globulin shot to try to prevent the development of measles altogether. While measles does not appear to cause birth defects, but it can increase the risk of miscarriage or premature labor.