Measles, or rubeola, is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is caused by the measles virus. Measles can be spread through coughing, sneezing, or by touching contaminated surfaces, then touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth. The measles virus can survive on a surface or in the air for a couple of hours, making it highly contagious; statistics indicate that a non-immunized person has a 90% chance to contract the measles virus from being around an infected person. Measles is only spread between humans, and currently, there are no other known hosts.
Signs of the measles can include a four-day fever, cough, head cold, red eyes, and rashes. Rashes can begin to show several days after the first signs and can last up to eight days. About 3 out of 10 people will develop complications. These range from mild complications, such as diarrhea and ear infection, to serious complications, such as pneumonia, blindness, or encephalitis. Measles complications can also result in death. Those at higher risk of developing complications include children under 5 and adults older than 20 years of age.
Measles is an endemic disease and remains a problem in developing countries such as Africa and the Western Pacific Regions. In 2001, the Measles & Rubella Initiative (MRI) was launched by the American Red Cross and partners to reduce global measles deaths by 90% by 2010. From 1999 to 2004, global measles death dropped 48% from 871,000 to 454,000. Measles was also declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, meaning that measles will not spread like the common flu. Measles cases, however, are still present in the U.S. This is because the virus is brought into the U.S. by international travelers. In 2014, the CDC reported 644 measles cases in 27 states, the highest since it was declared eradicated. This is believed to be associated with travelers retuning from the Philippines, where a measles outbreak was ongoing in 2014.
As of January 23, 2015, relating to an outbreak that started at Disneyland in California in December of 2014, at least 59 cases of measles have been confirmed. This has since spread to Utah, Washington, Colorado, and Mexico. This is significant because it is the worst outbreak in the state in 15 years.
Receiving early and proper MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of contracting measles. The CDC recommends children receive the first dose of the vaccine at 12-15 months of age and the second dose at 4-6 years of age. For adults who have no immunity to measles, they should receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Click here to read more about vaccinations and international travelers. As a general rule, always have good hand hygiene and avoid touching areas of your face. Also, keep updated with the current outbreaks and news from the CDC.