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2024 Measles Outbreak: What You Need to Know

March 25, 2024

A physician examines a young child with measles.

Q&A with Jason Kessler, MD
Infectious Disease Specialist, Atlantic Health System

Are we seeing a resurgence of measles?

Yes, the virus is on the rise with several cases reported across the nation and in New Jersey. Measles is a very contagious respiratory virus. Since the development of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella), we have essentially eradicated measles in the United States. But prior to the vaccine, measles was a common childhood illness and, for many, it was fatal.

Why are we having these outbreaks?

Measle outbreaks are cropping up in areas with low vaccination rates. Travelling is also causing spread because most measles vaccination efforts around the world are not as robust as ours. Maintaining herd immunity requires extraordinarily high immunity rates in a community because once a person is infected, it’s very difficult to prevent transmission to someone who’s not vaccinated.

How can we protect ourselves?

A focus on vaccines is the best way forward. It will prevent the spread. So, make sure you and your children have had the MMR vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children receive their first MMR vaccine dose after age one and the second dose around age four or five. If properly administered, there is no need to be revaccinated as an adult.

What if someone isn’t aware of their vaccine status?

If you’re not sure whether you’ve received the MMR vaccine or if you think there’s a chance you haven’t been completely vaccinated, your doctor can assess your immunity. If you find that you’re not fully protected, it would be wise to get the MMR vaccine as an adult. There’s no risk to getting revaccinated.

What are some signs of measles?

It’s very difficult to recognize measles early on because it’s hard to differentiate it from other viruses. The classic early triad of symptoms is a cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. It's also characterized by general discomfort, fever, cough, and muscle aches and pains. Usually, only after the classic rash develops, does a doctor associate the symptoms with measles.

How severe can a case of measles become?

Some people have very mild cases with a low-grade fever and a minor rash. Others can become severely ill and develop serious health issues such as pneumonia, organ failure, swelling of the brain, and even miscarriage in pregnant women. Although, today these complications are all particularly rare.

Who is most at risk?

Anyone who has not been vaccinated is at risk — mostly unvaccinated young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a weak immune system. If any of these people contract measles, they would potentially have a poor outcome. That’s why it’s really important for all of us to protect ourselves.

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