It's just a little case of the measles...

If you’re age 40+, you may remember having measles as a child. For the majority, this meant breaking out in a rash, having a runny nose and red eyes, and spiking a fever. You had to stay home from school and activities because the disease was very contagious. Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. According to the CDC, “It is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected. Your child can get measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even up to two hours after that person has left.”

In 1978, the CDC set out to wipe out the disease from the United States. By the year 2000, it was eliminated due to a highly effective vaccination program in the U.S., including adding a second dose of the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine for all children. The second dose was added to the protocol after a 1989 measles outbreak among vaccinated school-aged children. But now, we are seeing the disease surface again in the United States. During 2019, the CDC reported that  1,276 individual cases of the measles were confirmed between January 1 and December 5 in the following 31 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

An outbreak in Rockland County, New York, was so serious that county officials declared a state of emergency in March 2019. The declaration restricted unvaccinated minors from “entering any place of public assembly in Rockland County” unless they have documentation from a physician stating they are immune, are medically barred from immunization or are younger than six months." According to the declaration, an assembly is where more than 10 persons are gathered and includes religious functions.* The declaration was overturned by a judge at the state level, but ministries should monitor what their city and state officials are recommending or mandating.

Three months later, the state of New York ended its practice of allowing religious exemptions for vaccines, CNN reported. The legislation, which took effect June 13, 2019, removes non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements. 

What’s so concerning about a case of the measles?

Measles is a serious disease. According to the CDC, about one in four people who get the measles will be hospitalized. Common complications include ear infections for one in every 10 children with measles, which can result in permanent hearing loss. Severe complications include pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Pneumonia is the most common cause of death in young children with the measles—one in 20 children with the measles will get pneumonia.

If the measles were eliminated in the U.S., how are people contracting it now?

While all 50 states and the District of Columbia have state laws requiring children entering childcare or public schools to be vaccinated, some parents choose to forgo vaccines for their children due to religious, medical, or philosophical reasons.

Children and adults not protected against measles are at risk for contracting the disease. They can also spread the disease to others who have not been vaccinated. According to the CDC, measles may be brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers who have been exposed, either Americans who are unvaccinated visiting other countries or by foreign travelers visiting in the U.S. Measles then can spread when it reaches a community in the U.S. where pockets of people are unvaccinated.


Appeared in Brotherhood Mutual’s Safety News, April 24, 2019
Updated on January 2, 2020