Do Measles Still Exist?
Despite a developed vaccine and being declared eliminated, countries are still at risk of a measles outbreak in under-vaccinated populations.

Yes, measles does still exist and is infecting a high population globally. It is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus.

Measles remained a common disease among various countries but was declared eliminated in the United States in the year 2000. Despite a developed vaccine, countries, such as the United States, with under-vaccinated or unvaccinated populations are at risk of a measles outbreak.

  • The World Health Organization states that measles cases are rising rapidly throughout the world.
  • According to the most recent figures, the number of cases of measles is more than two times higher in 2018 compared to 2017.
  • While statistics for 2019 are not yet available, initial data suggests that there were 690,000 instances in the first 11 months of 2019 (an increase of more than 200 percent compared to the same period of the previous year).

What is an outbreak?

An outbreak is an increase in the number of endemic cases that is larger than expected. It could be a single instance in a new field. An outbreak can rapidly become an epidemic if it is not contained.

Outbreaks of measles are recently seen among countries where the virus was believed to be eliminated. The possible causes for measles to resurface include:

  • Increase of anti-vaccination attitude among the population in recent years
  • Reintroduction of measles infection by foreign visitors who are infected or not vaccinated
  • Countries with poor health infrastructure and low resources may not be able to provide vaccines and other healthcare support to the population
  • Natural disasters may spike infection rates as healthcare facilities are destroyed and healthcare providers are unable to do their duties, especially the duties related to immunization will be disrupted

Overall, the main cause for the rapid increase in measles in recent years is the failure in providing immunization or the idea of anti-vaccination.

What is measles?

Measles, also called rubeola, is a highly infectious respiratory illness caused by a virus that creates a full-body skin rash as well as flu-like symptoms.

Because of extensive immunization, measles is now uncommon in the United States. However, millions of instances occur each year throughout the world.

In an incidence in September 2019, the United States was at risk of losing measles elimination status due to several large-scale outbreaks resulting in more than 1,200 confirmed cases across 31 states.

Is measles contagious?

Measles is extremely contagious and may infect 9 out of 10 people who are not vaccinated for the virus if they meet an infected person.

The spread of measles is through direct contact with body fluids or inhaling virus-infected droplets from an infected person. It can spread by droplets blasted into the air when a measles patient sneezes or coughs.

When a person is exposed to the virus, symptoms generally appear 7 to 14 days later. 

8 symptoms of measles

The symptoms of measles include:

  • A high fever that may go beyond 104°F
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva)
  • Koplik’s spots: Tiny white spots may be seen in the mouth two to three days after symptoms begin.
  • Measles skin rash: Small, raised, red spots appear on the skin three to five days after symptoms begin. The rash first appears on the face and hairline and spreads to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet.
  • Complications from measles include ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, and panencephalitis, leading to deafness or intellectual disability

What is the treatment for measles?

There is no medical therapy for measles. The infection must be allowed to take its course.

Isolation

  • To avoid spreading the virus, a sick child should drink enough fluids, get plenty of rest, and take prescribed or over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms.
  • The most important step to follow is to keep the infected child isolated at home. 
  • Unvaccinated children should be kept in the house away from the infected child in case of an outbreak.

Vaccination

  • Vaccination is the only way to prevent the risk of being infected with measles. It is essential to provide complete immunization to everybody, especially to children who are at risk of getting infected.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children get two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, with the first dose between 12 and 15 months of age followed by the second dose at four or six years of age.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/13/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Selim L. Measles explained: What’s behind the recent outbreaks? UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/stories/measles-explained-whats-behind-recent-outbreaks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Global Measles Outbreaks. https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/measles/data/global-measles-outbreaks.html

Cleveland Clinic. Measles. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8584-measles

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Complications of Measles. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/symptoms/complications.html