Measles on the rise in the United States
Recent media coverage of a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in
California in December 2014 has raised awareness of a disease that
hasn’t been a major health concern in the United States for decades. The
measles outbreak, which has infected more than 175 people in 17 states,
as well as Mexico and Canada, has fueled concerns about the growing
incidence of a disease that was declared officially “eliminated” in
There was a time when measles was a major health concern. Prior to 1963
when a vaccine became available, nearly all children (3 to 4 million
people) got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. Of those, an
estimated 400 to 500 died, 4,000 suffered encephalitis (inflammation of
the brain) and 48,000 were hospitalized. The introduction of a vaccine
drastically reduced the numbers of cases, culminating in the
announcement in 2000 that the disease was “eliminated” (no longer
constantly circulating) in the United States.
The risk of contracting measles in this country remains small, as most
Americans are protected against measles through vaccination. However,
the rising numbers of unvaccinated individuals is cause for concern and
the most significant factor cited in the growing incidence of measles
outbreaks in this country. In 2014, the United States had 644 measles
cases, the highest number since 1996. New York state had 32 cases of
measles last year and three confirmed cases so far this year
The Goshen Central School District is
providing information from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to
help parents and community members become better informed about the
illness and to help prevent its transmission.
What is measles?
Measles is a serious, highly contagious and potentially fatal virus that
is spread by contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected people.
Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and a characteristic rash that
appears three to five days after the onset of illness. Without
complications, the typical duration of the illness is seven to 10 days.
It should be noted that measles can produce serious complications and,
in rare cases, death. Major complications can include pneumonia and
encephalitis. Complications occur in up to 30 percent of all measles
cases, with those under the age of 5 and over the age of 20 at greatest
risk. Pregnant women who contract measles have an increased risk of
low-birth-weight infants, premature labor, miscarriage and babies born
with birth defects.
Have there been any confirmed cases in New York so far in 2015?
There have been three confirmed cases of measles in New York state this
year, including one case of an infected college student who traveled via
Amtrak train from New York City to Dutchess County prompting the state
health department to issue an advisory alerting passengers to the
possible exposure. The other two cases of measles occurred in New York
Who can get infected with measles?
Anyone who has not been vaccinated against
measles or who has never had the disease is susceptible to becoming
infected and spreading it to others, including those who cannot get
vaccinated because they are too young or have specific health
What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles symptoms, which typically appear 10 to 14 days after exposure,
begin with cold-like symptoms including a fever, cough and runny nose.
Eyes may become reddened and sensitive to light and fever may continue
to rise, often peaking as high as 103°to 105° F. The second stage of the
illness features a rash that usually begins on the face and spreads
downward to the back, trunk and then limbs. Parents should contact their
family physician if children display symptoms.
How does the virus spread?
With an extremely high transmission rate of 90 percent, measles is one
of the most contagious viral illnesses in existence. It is transmitted
primarily through coughing and sneezing. However, the virus can also
live on contaminated surfaces and in the air for up to two hours.
Infected individuals are contagious up to four days before and four days
after the onset of the measles rash.
How can I protect myself and my children?
According to the CDC, vaccination is the single best way to protect
against measles. The recommended two doses of measles, mumps and rubella
(MMR) vaccine are 97 percent effective in preventing the illness. The
first dose should be given at 12 to 15 months of age. The second dose is
routinely given at 4 to 6 years of age. However, unprotected persons can
get the vaccine at any age.
For those travelling internationally, the CDC recommends that all U.S.
residents older than 6 months who have not been previously vaccinated
receive the MMR vaccine prior to departure.
If you are unsure if you or your children were vaccinated, talk with
Is vaccination required by schools in New York state?
Yes. In New York state, measles immunizations are required of all
children enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs and public and private
schools as mandated by New York Public Health Law §2164. Limited
exemptions to the vaccination requirement are permitted for medical
reasons, pending the appropriate documentation from a student’s
physician. Applications for exemptions due to religious reasons are
decided by individual school principals on a case-by-case basis.
[Source: NYS Department of Health,
In the wake of the most recent outbreak, lawmakers in several states
have begun introducing measures that would eliminate or sharply curtail
exemptions from the vaccination requirement. There are also efforts
underway in some states to require teachers to provide proof of having
What happens if there is an outbreak at my child’s school?
In the event a case of measles is diagnosed in a student or staff member
at your child’s school, school officials are required to report the case
to their local department of health in compliance with state and federal
confidentiality laws. Schools will work in consultation with their
medical director or physician and the DOH to develop a policy for
notification and disease surveillance and control among students and
How can I get more information?
Visit the CDC website at
the New York State Department of Health website at
http://www.health.ny.gov/. The New York State Education Department has
issued guidance at
You can also contact your family physician.
New York Times: “As Measles Cases Spread in U.S., So Does Anxiety”
New York Times: “New York Vaccine Requirement Is Lawful, a 2nd Court
Reuters News Service: “Lawmakers want tougher vaccine exemptions amid
Associated Press: “Amid measles outbreak, few rules on teacher