Thanks to vaccines, we no longer have to worry about many dangerous diseases. Measles—once a common, often lethal illness—is now quite rare, and is often relegated to that “no worry” list.
However, when cases of measles occur, they are dangerous, particularly for children under the age of 5. That’s because measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases. It is spread through the air (when an infected person coughs or sneezes) or by direct contact with a contaminated surface.
Measles is also dangerous because of the complications that can arise in affected people, especially in children who are malnourished or have weakened immune systems. In the United States, measles is fatal for about 2 in 1,000 children infected. The risk of death is even higher in the developing world, where 134,000 deaths from measles—mainly in children—still occur each year.
For this reason, doctors emphasize the importance of vaccinating children with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Adults should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine if they have never received it or have never had measles.) It’s also wise to educate yourself about this virus, which infects the respiratory tract and then spreads throughout the entire body.
Since the MMR vaccine began to be used routinely in the U.S. in 1963, the number of measles cases has dropped dramatically, with an average of just 63 cases reported annually between 2000 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But in recent years, there have been outbreaks around the country. These typically occurred (and spread) because of an increase in unvaccinated travelers who brought the virus to the U.S. from a country where measles is more common; children in the U.S. who did not receive the vaccine were vulnerable to the virus.
At Yale Medicine, we have a team of pediatric and adult infectious disease specialists who are well versed in the prevention and treatment of measles and other diseases. Our general pediatricians and primary care providers are committed to educating the public about vaccination recommendations.