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U.S. measles cases continue to spread

A young boy with a measles rash on his face and hands lies in bed.

May 15, 2019—Vaccine-preventable measles continues to spread this year in the U.S. Since the beginning of 2019, there have been more than 700 cases. That's the highest number since 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over 500 of those sickened hadn't been vaccinated. There have been no deaths so far. But 9% of those infected have had to be hospitalized.

Why the comeback?

Measles was considered eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But it persists elsewhere in the world. And new outbreaks may occur when unvaccinated U.S residents are exposed to measles abroad and bring the disease back to this country.

This year's surge is largely the result of local outbreaks in under-immunized communities. Measles is one of the world's most contagious diseases. And it can spread rapidly among pockets of unvaccinated people.

Children at high risk

Most people with measles recover fully in about a week. But it can cause severe complications, especially in children. Among them: pneumonia, blindness and swelling of the brain. Of every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two die.

About half of this year's cases so far have been in children under 5 years old. In recent years, some parents have decided not to vaccinate their children because of widespread misinformation about the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

But large, well-designed studies have shown that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. Parents can be confident about its benefits and track record, health officials stress. It and other vaccines are so beneficial, in fact, that the World Health Organization considers vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health.

What parents can do

Getting your child vaccinated against measles does more than protect your youngster. It helps keep measles from spreading to infants too young to be vaccinated. And it protects people with health problems who can't be vaccinated.

Most kids should receive the first dose of the MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months old, with a second dose at 4 to 6 years old. If you have questions about the MMR vaccine, ask your doctor. And check out this vaccine guide to be sure all your child's vaccines are up-to-date.

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