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Measles Outbreak What You Should Know

The American Red Cross has been involved in a worldwide battle against measles for years. Since 2001, the Red Cross and our partners in the Measles & Rubella Initiative have vaccinated more than two billion children in  88 countries around the world to protect them from both of these deadly diseases. Our partners in this lifesaving program include the United Nations Foundation, the CDC, UNICEF and World Health Organization. With this latest outbreak here at home, the Red Cross wants everyone to know about measles – just how contagious it is, how to recognize it, what you should do if exposed to measles and more.


Measles is still a common disease in some parts of the world and travelers either bring measles into the U.S. or someone from this country gets measles while traveling and brings it home. The disease can spread in a community where a large number of people have not been vaccinated, which the CDC reports is what is currently occurring.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require vaccinations for children entering kindergarten, however all states also provide medical exemptions to these requirements and some states also offer exemptions for religious and philosophical reasons.


According to the CDC:

  • Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing.
  • The measles virus can live for up to two hours in a space where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.
  • Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.
  • Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after the rash appears.
  • Early symptoms include high fever, a cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Two or three days later small while spots may appear inside the mouth. Within three to five days the red measles rash breaks out on the face and spreads down the body to the feet. The patient’s fever may go to 104 degrees or higher. In a few days the fever goes down and the rash fades.
  • If you have been exposed to measles, call your doctor immediately and let them know. Your doctor can determine if you are immune to measles based on your vaccination record, age, or laboratory evidence, and make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk



The CDC considers you protected from measles if you have records showing at least one of the following:

  • You received two doses of measles-containing vaccine – applies to children in grades K-12 and adults in a high risk setting, including students pursuing higher education, healthcare personnel and international travelers.
  • You received one dose of measles-containing vaccine – applies to a pre-school aged child or adult not in a high risk setting.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you had measles at some point in your life.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you are immune to measles.
  • You were born before 1957.
  • The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles. Your child needs two doses of MMR vaccine for best protection - the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, the second dose 4 through 6 years of age.


You can find more information from the CDC here.


The Mayo Clinic makes the following recommendations:

  • If you or your child has measles, keep in touch with your doctor as you monitor the progress of the disease and watch for complications.
  • Get rest and avoid busy activities.
  • Drink plenty of water, fruit juice and herbal tea to replace fluids lost by fever and sweating.
  • Use a humidifier to relieve a cough and sore throat.
  • If your patient finds bright light bothersome, as do many people with measles, keep the lights low or wear sunglasses. Also avoid reading or watching television if light from a reading lamp or the television is bothersome.
  • The patient may also take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to help relieve the fever that accompanies measles. Don't give aspirin to children or teenagers who have measles symptoms. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Children with low levels of Vitamin A may have a more severe case of measles. Your doctor might recommend Vitamin A, which may prevent serious health consequences and death. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting a Vitamin A regimen, since your health needs are unique.


In a recent CNN Opinion post, Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross and Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation had this to say about measles: “In the United States, Europe and Latin America, we're seeing more and more headlines proclaiming a child has suffered due to measles -- a disease that is easily preventable by vaccination.

“As the disease surges to its highest levels in more than a decade, it's imperative that we all come together to stop the world from backsliding any further -- and that means ensuring everyone gets vaccinated. Unless we act -- and fast -- more people will get the virus and die. And many of the victims will be children.”


If you would like to join the worldwide fight against measles and rubella, donate to the Red Cross Measles and Rubella Initiative. Text PREVENT to 90999 to give $10 to the Red Cross and help us vaccinate children against measles.