Top 4 Things You Need to Know about Measles

You may be hearing a lot about measles lately.  And all of this news on TV, social media, Internet, newspapers and magazines may leave you wondering what you really need to know about this disease.  CDC has put together a list of the most important facts about measles.

1.  Measles can be serious.
Some people think of measles as just a little rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years of age or adults older than 20 years of age.  There is no way to tell in advance the severity of the symptoms someone will experience.  


Some of the more common measles symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes


Common measles complications include ear infections and diarrhea.

  • Ear infections occur in about one out of every 10 children with measles and can result in permanent hearing loss.
  • Diarrhea is reported in less than one out of 10 people with measles.


Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).  They may need to be hospitalized and could die.

As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.

  • About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
  • For every 1,000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it.


2.  Measles is very contagious.

Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  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.  An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing he/she has the disease—from four days before developing the measles rash through four days afterward.


3.  You can still get measles in United States.
Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 thanks to a highly effective vaccination program.  Eliminated means that the disease is no longer constantly present in this country.  However, measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Worldwide, 19 cases of measles per 1 million persons are reported each year and 89,780 people, mostly children, die from the disease.  Even if your family does not travel internationally, you could come into contact with measles anywhere in your community.  Every year, measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) who get measles while they are in other countries. Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk.

4.  You have the power to protect your child against measles with a safe and effective vaccine.
The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.  MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles.  Your child needs two doses of MMR vaccine for best protection:

  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age
  • The second dose 4 through 6 years of age


If your family is traveling overseas, the vaccine recommendations are a little different:

  • If your baby is 6 through 11 months old, he or she should receive 1 dose of MMR vaccine before leaving.
  • If your child is 12 months of age or older, he or she will need 2 doses of MMR vaccine (separated by at least 28 days) before departure.


So, why aren’t people getting vaccinated?

Fear of vaccines and myths against them are not a new phenomenon.  Opposition to vaccines goes as far back as the 18th century.  Opposition against vaccines not only originated from theological arguments but many also objected to them for political and legal reasons.

The anti-vaccination movement was most strongly rejuvenated in recent years by the publication of a paper in The Lancet (a highly respected medical journal) by a former British doctor and researcher, Andrew Wakefield, which suggested credibility to the debunked-claim of a connection between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and development of autism in young children [14].  Several studies published later disproved a causal association between the MMR vaccine and autism [15-18].  Wakefield drew severe criticism for his flawed and unethical research methods, which he used to draw his data and conclusions [19].  A journalistic investigation also revealed that there was a conflict of interest with regard to Wakefield’s publication because he had received funding from litigants against vaccine manufacturers, which he obviously did not disclose to either his co-workers nor medical authorities [20].  For all of the these reasons, The Lancet retracted the study, and its editor declared it “utterly false” [21].  As a result, three months later, he was also struck off the UK Medical Registry, barring him from practicing medicine in the UK.  The verdict declared that he had "abused his position of trust" and "brought the medical profession into disrepute" in the studies he carried out [22].

The damage, however, was already done and the myth was spread to many different parts of the world, especially Western Europe and North America.  In the UK, for example, the MMR vaccination rate dropped from 92% in 1996 to 84% in 2002. In 2003, the rate was as low as 61% in some parts of London, far below the rate needed to avoid an epidemic of measles [23].  In Ireland, in 1999-2000, the national immunization level had fallen below 80%, and in part of North Dublin, the level was around 60% [24].  In the US, the controversy following the publication of the study led to a decline of about 2% in terms of parents obtaining the MMR vaccine for their children in 1999 and 2000.  Even after later studies explicitly and thoroughly debunked the alleged MMR-autism link, the drop in vaccination rates persisted [25].

Go to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122668/for full article and the links to the referenced numbers.

 Bottom line:

The measles vaccine as part of the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccination is safe.  Scientists in the United States have determined there is no link between this vaccination and autism.  All children should be vaccinated.  Please go to: https://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.htmlfor more information.

Beth Ewing, RN, BSN, CNM, WHNP-BC   
Parish Nurse
Sources:  https://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122668/

​​​​Beth Ewing, RN, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC serves as the Parish Nurse for both Abiding Christ and the Lutheran Saints in Ministry.