Lower vaccination rates in some areas of the U.S. are letting measles rear its ugly head again.
The U.S. reported 349 cases of measles in 26 states and the District of Columbia by the end of 2018. As of Jan. 31, 2019, there have been 40 confirmed cases of measles in Washington and some parts of Oregon. Some officials say the outbreak could last weeks or months.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report estimated the rate of measles vaccination of kindergartners in the 2017–18 school year:
- Idaho: 89.5%
- Oregon: 93.2%
- Utah: 93.4 %
- Washington state: 90.6%
That means many children in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington start school without protection from measles, one of the most contagious diseases known.
High vaccination rates form a herd immunity that helps protect people who are not vaccinated. However, when many people get together in an area with a lower vaccination rate, outbreaks are much more likely to happen.
Officials are taking action to prevent public health risks. In Washington, some hospitals and doctors are keeping children under age 12 and unvaccinated adults from entering their facilities. Unvaccinated students are being sent home from some schools.
Here's what a case of measles looks like: You get an all-over rash, watery eyes that may be sensitive to light, a cough, runny nose and a high fever. About three out of 10 people get complications, such as pneumonia, ear infections or diarrhea.
Measles rarely kills those who can get good health care quickly. Worldwide, however, measles killed about 110,000 in 2017 among people without health care.
What you can do
The good news is that the measles vaccine is 97% effective. The CDC recommends children receive an initial dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age. They should get a booster shot at four to six years of age.
Infants under 12 months who are too young for the vaccine are at the highest risk. Call your doctor right away if your infant was around someone with measles.
If you (as an adult) cannot remember being vaccinated (or revaccinated), you can also ask to be vaccinated. Repeating it won't hurt you.