Measles: Uncommon Now, But Outbreaks Still Occur

Recent local outbreaks of measles have prompted health officials to issue immunization and prevention reminders: 

"The virus usually causes a red skin rash, high fever and watery eyes, symptoms that last for about a week. The first symptoms can appear as long as 21 days after exposure. Although most people recover within a week, measles can lead to pneumonia and, in rare cases, can be fatal. Those who suspect that they might have measles are encouraged to call ahead before going to doctors offices or hospitals to avoid spreading the virus.

Measles cases are uncommon in the United States because vaccinations are required of most schoolchildren and foreign-born individuals who become U.S. citizens. Outbreaks often begin when an unimmunized person visits a country where the disease is still prevalent and then returns with the infection. The virus is usually spread through sneezing and coughing and can remain in the air or on surfaces for two hours. "

Outbreaks continue to occur in high schools (one or two per year) and on college campuses (less than one per year). These educational institutions are potential high-risk areas for measles transmission because of large concentrations of susceptible people.

As the incidence rate of measles declines in the United States, aggressive surveillance becomes increasingly important. Known or suspected measles cases should be reported immediately to local health departments.

Speed in implementing control programs is essential in preventing the spread of measles. Control activities should not be delayed until laboratory results on suspected cases are received. All persons who cannot readily provide 1) a physician-documented history of measles, 2) laboratory evidence of measles immunity or 3) a documented history of vaccination with live measles virus vaccine on or after the first birthday should be vaccinated or excluded from school. Documentation of vaccination should be considered adequate only if the date of vaccination is provided. If a persons measles immunity is in doubt, he/she should be vaccinated."

"Despite the fact that a safe and effective measles vaccine costs less than $1, parents in many developing countries do not have access to immunization services that would protect their children. Factors such as poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information make it difficult for families to secure preventative medical care.

"As long as measles remains an issue for one nation, it remains a threat to all," said Athalia Christie, senior technical advisor with the American Red Cross.

The Measles Initiative – a partnership led by the American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization – is working to address this problem."

The Initiative, formed in 2001, has invested $670 million in measles control activities, helping to save an estimated 3.6 million lives. A strategy to reduce global measles mortality, which includes vaccinating all children before their first birthday through routine health services and mass campaigns, has been key to securing a 74 percent reduction in global measles deaths (2000-2007). More than 600 million children in 60 countries have been vaccinated through the Measles Initiative.

Following are statements issued by the Measles Initiative technical advisors:

"Measles knows no borders but can be prevented worldwide for less than $1 per child. We must be steadfast in our efforts to reduce measles cases globally. As long as children remain unvaccinated, they are at risk."

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