Measles: What You Need to Know

2019 has brought one of the largest outbreaks of measles in the U.S. since it was declared eliminated from this country in 2000. Since Jan. 1, there have been 555 confirmed cases of measles in 20 different states (data as of April 11), and those numbers are rising quickly. Although there have been no confirmed cases of measles in the state of Montana in many years, it is always best to be prepared. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about measles to keep yourself and your family safe.

  • If you’ve gotten two doses of MMR vaccine, you are safe from measles. The CDC lists the measles vaccine as 93% effective after one dose and 97% effective after two. So if you are older than kindergarten age and fully vaccinated, you are likely immune.
  • Measles begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and irritated eyes (conjunctivitis). In this way, it may look like many other childhood illnesses when it first appears. However, 3-5 days after these first symptoms, the telltale measles rash will appear. The rash starts at the hairline and on the face and descends to the trunk and shoulders, and may eventually spread to the limbs.
  • Measles is highly contagious. The virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and can live in the air of an infected area for up to 2 hours. It is so contagious that it will infect 9 out of 10 susceptible people who come in contact with an infected person. For this reason, those infected with measles must remain isolated until they can no longer spread the disease. The infectious period of measles runs from four days before until four days after the rash appears.
  • Measles can be very serious. 1 out of 4 people with measles will be hospitalized for complications, most often pneumonia. Especially in young children, measles can also cause rare complications including encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and death. Newborns and children who are too young to have had two doses of the vaccine are most susceptible, as are those who are unvaccinated.

If an outbreak of measles does occur in Montana, the Department of Public Health will announce it and remind the public of the proper precautions. For now, the best way to protect your family from measles is to make sure everyone is up to date on their immunizations! For more information about measles and the MMR vaccine, visit the CDC’s website.