Measles Cases on the Rise: What to Know

An increase of measles cases around the country has made national news as the CDC issued a warning that the rapid increase of cases during the first quarter of 2024 “represents a renewed threat to elimination.” This year, there have already been more than 120 cases of measles, more than double the number reported for all of last year.

Who is being impacted by the spike?

CDC data showed that more than 80% of cases involved people who were either not vaccinated, or whose vaccination status was unknown. As of April 11, the CDC reported that 47% of cases were children under 5 years old. Of the 121 reported cases, 57% resulted in hospitalization.

Symptoms and Potential Complications

Measles isn’t just a rash. It’s a highly contagious disease that can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. Symptoms usually appear 7 to 14 days after being infected and typically include:

  • High fever (may spike to more than 104°).
  • Cough.
  • Runny nose (coryza).
  • Red, watery eyes.

Several days (2-3) after symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth. These may be followed by a rash that appears as flat red spots on the face and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. The rash may also be accompanied by a high fever.

While measles can be dangerous for everyone, certain populations are particularly vulnerable to developing more severe cases or complications. According to the CDC, these include:

  • Children younger than 5 years of age.
  • Adults older than 20 years of age.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia or HIV infection.

Common complications of measles are ear infections and diarrhea. More serious complications include pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

How to Protect Against Measles

The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones is to make sure you get vaccinated on time according to the CDC’s routine immunization schedule.

Federal health officials recommend all children get two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The first dose of the vaccine should be given at 12 months of age and a second dose at 4 to 6 years old. In addition, adults and children who are planning to travel abroad, and women who are considering getting pregnant, should check on their vaccination status. Talk to your health care provider to ensure all your vaccinations are up to date. If you think you or your child may have measles and you seek medical attention, you should immediately alert the front desk staff (vs sitting in the waiting room) and wear a mask when you arrive.