In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. And yet measles cases in the country hit a 20-year high this summer. How can that be?
When health officials declared measles eliminated, it was because the disease was no longer considered native in the U.S. Thanks to vaccination, measles — which once caused 3 million to 4 million cases a year in the U.S. — isn’t continuously transmitted here anymore.
But the disease is still common in many countries around the world. Unvaccinated travelers can bring measles to the U.S. with them.
Globally, 20 million people get measles each year, and about 164,000 people die from the disease. Measles can also have lasting complications, including loss of hearing or lifelong brain damage.
Measles is caused by a virus and is very contagious. It can be spread through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. It’s so contagious, in fact, “that any child who is exposed to it and is not immune will probably get the disease,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re unvaccinated, you can get measles from an infected person. Unvaccinated children and pregnant women are especially at risk for contracting measles.
Some families choose not to vaccinate their children while some are not able to get vaccinated against measles because of allergies or other pre-existing health conditions. By vaccinating your child, you protect not just him or her but you help protect others in your community who are unable to be vaccinated by slowing or preventing the spread of the disease to others.
Luckily, measles is easily preventable. Talk to your health provider about measles vaccination for you and your family.