Everything to Know About the US Measles Outbreak
A guide to understanding why the disease still takes children’s lives around the world.
The state of Washington has seen 48 cases of measles since the state first announced an outbreak of the highly contagious infectious disease in January, CNN reports. The new tally, announced Monday, comes five days after the state declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak. Experts believe a lack of people and children being vaccinated is the cause.
Despite measles being declared eliminated in the US in 2000, one case is breaking out daily in Washington this year, according to CNN. A vast majority of those who contracted the measles, 41, were not vaccinated against the disease, according to Clark County officials. Other states across the US — Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Colorado, California, and Georgie — are also seeing an uptick in the virus.
A sign prohibiting all children under 12 and unvaccinated adults stands at the entrance to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., Jan. 25, 2019.
The disease continues to be a global health issue, killing more than 100,000 people a year worldwide — most of the casualties are under the age of 5.
Here’s everything to know about the epidemic.
What is the measles?
The measles, also called rubeola, is a childhood respiratory infection caused by a virus that can lead to complications and even be deadly for small children, according to Mayo Clinic. The disease was first recorded in the 9th century, according to the CDC.
Pregnant women, young children, and those who are not vaccinated against measles are at highest risk of contracting the virus.
The measles is still common in many developing countries, especially in parts of Africa and Asia, according to the World Health Organization (the WHO). Most of the world’s measles deaths, over 95%, occur in countries experiencing poverty with weak healthcare systems.
Most of the world’s measles deaths, over 95%, occur in countries experiencing poverty with weak healthcare systems.
What are the symptoms?
Someone infected with the measles virus might not show symptoms for seven to 14 days, according to Gizmodo, and individuals who have contracted the disease can be contagious before showing symptoms. Early symptoms include red eyes, runny nose, cough, and fever. Infected individuals usually notice a rash three to five days after contracting the virus. The virus can linger in the air for up to two hours after someone with the measles coughs or sneezes.
How do you prevent the measles?
Before the measles vaccine was made available in 1963, measles was the leading killer of children globally. The measles vaccine, known as the MMR vaccine, which prevents against measles, mumps, and rubella, is very effective. One dose is about 93% effective at preventing measles if you come into contact with the virus, and two doses are about 97% effective, according to CNN.
Health experts recommend children receive the vaccine in two doses, the first between the ages of 12 months and 15 months, and the second between 4 and 6 years old.
The world has been showing progress on measles prevention. About 85% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday, up from 72% in 2000 according to the WHO.
Why aren’t children receiving the measles vaccine?
Populations living in countries experiencing or recovering from natural disaster or conflict are especially vulnerable to the measles. It is more difficult to stay on top of immunization under those circumstances, and living in refugee camps increases the risk of infection.
Within the US, policies in Oregon and Washington allow people to opt out of the vaccine for personal reasons, resulting in unusually low immunization rates. Public health officials say individuals are opting out because of misinformation. The anti-vaxxer movement promotes the idea that vaccines cause autism and brain disorders, even though there is no scientific evidence supporting that claim. In January, the WHO warned that anti-vaxxers could stall, if not sabotage, the overall progress the world has made on reducing cases of preventable diseases.
"Measles is a preventable disease. We can't emphasize enough the importance of immunizations in helping to prevent the spread of infection," James Conway, a University of Wisconsin Health expert in pediatric infectious disease said.