Measles is a viral infection. It is a highly contagious respiratory disease and is spread via droplets through the air from coughing and sneezing. Measles is caused by a single-stranded, enveloped RNA virus. Humans are the only natural hosts of measles virus1. It has been a notifiable disease in the U.S. since 19122.
In 2014, the U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases. From January 1 to November 29, 2014, there were 610 confirmed measles cases reported to the CDC. This is the highest number of cases since 20003.
The cases of measles reported in the U.S. in early 2015 are part of a large ongoing outbreak in California3.
The symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected. Measles typically starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. It is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. The rash usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104°F. After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades. About 30% of people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea. Complications are more common in adults and young children4.
Measles spreads when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes. It is very contagious through droplet transmission. It can survive on surfaces for up to two hours.
Measles is not native to the U.S. It is brought into the U.S. from any country where the disease still occurs or where outbreaks are occurring including Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. In 2014, the majority of cases brought into the U.S. have come from the Philippines, which has experienced a large outbreak. It can also be brought into the country when unvaccinated Americans or foreign visitors get measles while they're abroad, then bring the disease into the United States. They can spread measles to other people who are not vaccinated, which sometimes leads to outbreaks5.
Measles can be prevented with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. In countries where people are not vaccinated, the highly contagious virus can quickly spread through communities. Worldwide, an estimated 20 million people get measles and 122,000 people die from the disease each year6. Additional steps to reduce infection risk include7,8;
• Hand hygiene using soap and water and/or alcohol-based hand rubs,
• Cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and high touch objects with products effective against the measles virus,
• Cough etiquette and social distancing.
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REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION