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2019 Jul

Measles Outbreak

Vaccines are safe. Vaccines save lives. Disease kills.

The United States is experiencing the worst measles outbreak since 1992. From January 1-June 13, 2019 1,044 cases of measles have occurred within 28 states (including Virginia), and the count continues to rise. Compare this with 372 cases in 2018 and 37 cases in the U. S. in 2004.                     

Measles is a very common disease in many countries. Each year 10 million people worldwide get measles, and 110,000 people die from it. Daily 246 children die (10 an hour) from measles. It is likely that the current outbreak was caused by travelers bringing measles into the United States.

Measles is a highly contagious virus which lives in the nose and throat mucous of infected people. It is spread through the air by sneezing and coughing. The virus can live up to two hours within the airspace after an infected person has been there. It has a 90 percent contagious rate, which means that 9 out of 10 susceptible (non-immunized) people will develop measles with close contact to an infected person.

Symptoms of measles develop 7-14 days after exposure and include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. The measles rash appears 3-5 days after the first symptom. People are contagious for 4 days before and for 4 days after the rash appears, so infected patients can be infecting others before they know that they have measles. There is no antiviral therapy for measles. Supportive care is all that can be done.

Complications from measles can be quite serious. Risks are higher in those under 5 years old, over 20 years old, pregnant women, and immune-compromised patients. Serious complications include pneumonia and encephalitis. Pregnant women with measles can have premature births or low birth weight infants. One in five cases of measles requires hospitalization. One in 20 cases of measles develop pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death from measles in children.

One in 1,000 cases of measles will get encephalitis (swelling of the brain) which may cause seizures, deafness, and intellectual disability. In 1,000 cases of measles, 1 to 3 will die. SSPE (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) is a rare but fatal disease that can occur 7 to 10 years after a measles infection.

Measles is preventable. The best protection against measles is two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. The first dose is given between 12 and 15 months of age. The second dose is given between 4 and 6 years of age. The vaccine is safe and effective. Two doses provide 97 percent protection against measles, while even one dose is 93 percent effective. It takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to produce antibodies which provide disease protection. It has been scientifically proven that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism.

Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, most children got measles. At that time, 3-4 million U. S. children were affected. Yearly 48,000 people with measles were hospitalized, and 1,000 got encephalitis. Even with medical care 400-500 patients died annually. The measles vaccine (MMR) was developed to protect against disease. The 1978 goal of eliminating measles within the United States by 1982 led to an 80 percent decrease by 1981. An outbreak in 1989 prompted the recommendation of a booster dose of the measles vaccine. Finally, in 2000, measles was declared eliminated from the United States. This meant that there was an absence of disease for over 12 months.

If you are not sure if your child is protected against measles or if you have additional questions about measles, contact your pediatric healthcare provider. Please protect your child from measles. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines save lives. Disease kills. Let’s eliminate measles worldwide together.

For more information:

• Visit

• Due to the increased risk, if your family will be traveling overseas, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that infants from 6 to 11 months get one dose of the MMR before traveling, and children over 12 months get 2 doses of the MMR separated by at least 28 days. Visit

• Support the WHO’s (World Health Organization) goal to eliminate measles world-wide by 2020. Visit

• Join the United Nations Foundation’s shot@life to help protect children from vaccine preventable diseases. Text VACCINES to 738674 to support childhood immunizations and receive calls to action. Visit

Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner as well as core faculty member at Walden University. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: Second Edition, is available on


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Help ensure your child enters the new school year healthy and without delay with these tips from the Virginia Department of Health.