CDC Q&A: Measles and Vaccine To Prevent It

By  //  February 8, 2015

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ABOVE VIDEO: In a CBS Face The Nation interview, the CDC Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, discusses the recent U.S. measles outbreak and CDC recommendations to prevent further spread of the disease now and in the future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fifty years after the introduction of an effective measles vaccine, the disease is no longer endemic in the U.S., but it remains a threat to health security, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Measles was declared “eliminated” from the U.S. in 2000 — with elimination defined as the lack of any continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a defined geographical area.

Up until 1963 when the measles vaccine was introduced, measles was common in the U.S., causing 450 to 500 deaths, 48,000 hospitalizations, 7,000 seizures, and 1,000 cases of permanent brain damage or deafness each year, according to the CDC.

Most of those contracting the measles in the present outbreak apparently were not vaccinated.
Most of those contracting the measles in the present outbreak apparently were not vaccinated.

However, outbreaks do occur in the U.S. From January 1 to January 30, 2015, 102 people from 14 states were reported to have measles, with most of these cases associated  with a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California that likely started with a traveler who contracted the infection overseas where measles is still a major problem with nearly 150,000 deaths occurring globally in 2013.

A top CDC official said last week that most of those contracting the disease in this outbreak apparently were not vaccinated. The CDC sets a 95 percent vaccination target, but recent data shows that the vaccination rate in 17 states is less than 90 percent.

The CDC Measles Q&A below provides the scientific evidence-based facts that are so important for parents to understand when deliberating over whether or not to have their children vaccinated.

—Dr. Jim Palermo, Editor-in-Chief

Crowds and close quarters of amusement parks that draw an international clientele like Disneyland create a perfect environment for the spread of highly contagious diseases such as measles. The unvaccinated are at most risk of contracting the disease.

CENTER FOR DISEASE PREVENTION AND CONTROL — The best way to protect against measles is to get the measles-mumps-rubella shot (called the MMR shot). Doctors recommend that all children get the MMR shot.

Why should my child get the MMR shot?

The MMR shot:

  • Protects your child from measles, a potentially serious disease (and also protects against mumps and rubella)
  • Prevents your child from getting an uncomfortable rash and high fever from measles
  • Keeps your child from missing school or childcare (and keeps you from missing work to care for your sick child)

Is the MMR shot safe?

Yes. The MMR shot is very safe, and it is effective at preventing measles (as well as mumps and rubella). Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. But most children who get the MMR shot have no side effects.

What are the side effects?

The MMR vaccination is very safe, effective at preventing measles (as well as mumps and rubella), and most children who get the MMR shot have no side effects. There is no credible evidence that shows a link between autism and the MMR vaccination.

Most children do not have any side effects from the shot. The side effects that do occur are usually very mild, such as a fever or rash. More serious side effects are rare. These may include high fever that could cause a seizure (in about 1 person out of every 3,000 who get the shot) and temporary pain and stiffness in joints (mostly in teens and adults).

Is there a link between the MMR shot and autism?

No. Scientists in the United States and other countries have carefully studied the MMR shot. None has found a link between autism and the MMR shot.

What is measles?

Measles is a serious respiratory disease (in the lungs and breathing tubes) that causes a rash and fever. It is very contagious. In rare cases, it can be deadly.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles starts with a fever that can get very high. Some of the other symptoms that may occur are:

  • Cough, runny nose, and red eyes
  • Rash of tiny, red spots that start at the head and spread to the rest of the body
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infection

Is it serious?

Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. From 2001-2013, 28% of children younger than 5 years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital.

For some children, measles can lead to:

  • Pneumonia (a serious lung infection)
  • Lifelong brain damage
  • Deafness
  • Death

How does measles spread?

measles transmission
Measles is very contagious and spreads when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes.

Measles spreads when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes.

It is very contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, up to 2 hours after that person is gone. And you can catch measles from an infected person even before they have a measles rash. Almost everyone who has not had the MMR shot will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.

Where do measles cases in the United States come from?

Measles disease can come into this country when unvaccinated U.S. residents travel internationally or foreign visitors to the United States are exposed to measles in another country and travel into the United States. The risk of getting measles may be very high for unvaccinated U.S. residents who travel abroad. The reason for this high risk is because measles is common in other parts of the world, including countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Worldwide, about 20 million people get measles each year. When people with measles travel into the United States, they can spread the disease to unvaccinated people including children too young to be vaccinated.

How many measles cases are there in the United States each year?

In 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated. Measles elimination means that the disease is not constantly present in this country. Since 2000, the annual number of people reported to have measles ranged from a low of 37 people in 2004 to a high of 644 people in 2014. Most of these people got measles outside of the United States or after being exposed to someone who got measles while in another country. So far in 2015, we have seen many cases of measles that are part of a large, ongoing outbreak linked to an amusement park in California. See more up-to-date information on measles cases and outbreaks.

Where can I learn more about the MMR shot and my child?

To learn more about the MMR shot, talk to your child’s doctor, call 1-800-CDC-INFO, or visit CDC Vaccines for Parents site.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend all children receive their vaccines according to the recommended schedule.