Measles rash on the body of a child.

Measles making a comeback in the U.S.

Cases of the once eliminated disease are on the rise nationwide

May 3, 2024

Colorado has reported several recent cases of the highly contagious disease measles. Health authorities are emphasizing the critical importance of vaccinating against the disease.

Before widespread vaccination, measles caused 2.6 million deaths worldwide each year. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. However, due to even slightly lower vaccination rates, this highly contagious viral disease is presenting a threat to individuals and communities.

“The bad news is that measles spreads so easily, often before the infected person even knows they are sick,” said Garfield County Public Health Deputy Director Sara Brainard. “If someone with measles walked into a room of 10 unvaccinated people, nine of them would get it. And by room, it can be a large space the size of a movie theater. That is how contagious it is. The good news is that the vaccine is 98 percent effective after two doses. There has been extensive research and decades of worldwide data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”

Concerning numbers
• As of April 1, there have been more measles cases nationwide than there were in all of 2023.
• Risk increases when vaccine rates are below 95 percent. Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination rates are at 80 percent in Garfield County, leaving the region vulnerable to an outbreak.
• More than half of those infected with measles in 2024 have been hospitalized.

Measles vaccine safety record
The MMR vaccine is a safe and effective measure in preventing measles and its potential complications. Most people who get the measles vaccine do not experience side effects, although mild problems, such as fever, pain at the injection site, or rash can occur. The risk of a serious allergic reaction from the MMR vaccine is extremely rare, about one in a million.

The World Health Organization noted a significant increase in measles cases worldwide with a 30-fold increase in Europe.

“These are popular international tourist destinations for Americans, so it’s definitely good to check your vaccination status before traveling,” continued Brainard.

How it spreads
Measles spreads through the air by respiratory droplets produced from coughing or sneezing. The droplets can stay in the air for several hours, allowing anyone who breathes the contaminated air to become infected. It can also be transmitted by touching an infected surface and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth.

People with measles can spread the virus before they are symptomatic. Measles symptoms, which do not appear until 10 to 14 days after exposure, include cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, sore throat, fever, and a red, blotchy skin rash.

Complications from the virus can be life-altering and may lead to pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), deafness, blindness, and even death. Garfield County Public Health information is available online on the public health website.