Analysis & Opinions

Facts You Need to Know About Measles

| January 1st, 2024

Measles stands as one of the most highly contagious diseases among the array of viruses known to us. In fact, it’s so contagious that merely entering a room, up to two hours after it was vacated by an infected person, can lead to infection in those not immune!

The recent sporadic cases of measles in Pennsylvania, New York City, New Jersey, Virginia and Georgia underscore the persistent risk posed by this virus. The resurgence of measles is a recurrent issue, linked to factors such as international travel, a decline in vaccination rates both domestically and internationally, pockets of unvaccinated communities, and public misconceptions about the disease itself. Although the majority of individuals who contract measles recover, the potential consequences of infection are grave, with about one in five cases leading to hospitalization, one in a thousand resulting in brain swelling and potential brain damage, and death in one to three per thousand. Moreover, complications can include ear infections potentially leading to permanent hearing loss, pneumonia, and a detrimental effect on the immune system, erasing a good chunk of memory of previously encountered antigens.

Here are 5 points to be aware of: 

  1. Measles is vaccine preventable. The MMR vaccine, administered in two doses, offers approximately 97% protection, while a single dose provides about 93%. The first dose is typically given at 12 to 15 months of age, followed by a second dose between 4 to 6 years. 
  2. You’re fully vaccinated after 2 doses: The CDC considers individuals who received two doses of the measles vaccine in accordance with the U.S. vaccination schedule during childhood as having lifelong protection, eliminating the need for any future booster doses (note: rarely do fully vaccinated persons get measles if exposed to the virus.  This can happen in about three out of 100 fully vaccinated persons.)
  3. Vaccination status confirmation: If you're uncertain about your vaccination status, consult your healthcare provider or attempt to locate your vaccination records. Those lacking documented immunity should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, while certain groups may be advised to receive two doses.
  4. While most individuals are protected either through immunization or prior exposure to measles, there are specific groups that remain susceptible to measles infection, including:
  • Individuals born after 1957 who haven't received two doses of the live measles-containing vaccine (MMR). This includes infants who are too young for vaccination, those who received an inactivated vaccine between 1963 and 1967 and haven't received been re-vaccinated, and those who declined vaccination.
  • People with compromised immune systems resulting from either medical conditions or medication use.
  1. Symptom Vigilance: Be alert to symptoms if you suspect exposure or are in an area with a reported measles outbreak. Symptoms typically appear 7-14 days post-exposure, though this period can extend up to 21 days. Initial symptoms often include high fever, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes, and a rash. The rash, characterized by tightly clustered small red spots, some slightly raised, often starts at the hairline and spreads over the face, neck, body, and eventually the limbs. This rash usually surfaces 2 to 4 days after fever onset and lasts around 5 to 6 days.

For additional measles-related questions, check out The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions “Questions about Measles” or speak to your healthcare provider. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Madad, Syra.“Facts You Need to Know About Measles.” , January 1st, 2024.