Update on Measles Outbreaks

Global Cases Continue to Rise Dramatically


Ever since Dr. Edward Jenner invented a vaccine for smallpox in 1796, vaccination against numerous viruses has saved countless lives. Measles ought to be a disease for the history books — instead, measles is spreading rapidly all over the world. So rapidly in fact, that this month the World Health Organization reports an alarming 300% increase in the number of measles cases worldwide compared with the first three months of 2018.


In the U.S., measles disappeared almost 20 years ago. But, in an April 29 teleconference, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said, “Today, [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is reporting 704 cases of measles from 22 states. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated. While most parents are getting their children vaccinated, the vast majority of cases involve children who have not been vaccinated.”


There is no treatment for measles, which is highly contagious and dangerous, especially to children under age five. Measles can strike anyone who is unvaccinated, but the vast majority of cases and deaths occur in underserved countries in Africa and Asia and where natural disasters have damaged health infrastructure and services. In the U.S., “antivaxxers” are spreading misinformation about vaccines among communities already suspicious about outside health practices and treatment.


“Vaccination is a simple, safe and effective way to protect our loved ones and neighbors from the scourge of measles, and the suffering we are seeing today is completely avoidable.”
— Health and Human Services
Secretary Alex Azar

For accurate measles information, go to WiRED International’s Measles Module. The module describes the disease, its symptoms, transmission, treatment and complications — and the importance of vaccination. The course is interactive and contains colorful graphics and quizzes spaced throughout to help people retain the facts. All WiRED’s health learning education is free to all to be viewed and downloaded from anywhere in the world.


HHS Secretary Azar summed up the best defense against measles by saying, “Vaccination is a simple, safe and effective way to protect our loved ones and neighbors from the scourge of measles, and the suffering we are seeing today is completely avoidable.”





What is measles?

Measles or rubeola is a highly contagious viral disease that affects mostly children. It is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected person, and is one of the few truly airborne diseases. Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10 to 12 days after infection, include high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading downward.


Measles can be prevented only by receiving the MMR vaccine, formulated to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). There is no specific treatment for measles, and most people recover within two to three weeks. However, particularly in malnourished children and in people with reduced immunity, measles can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infection and pneumonia. When people die from measles, it is often from pneumonia and brain inflammation. Ninety-five percent of deaths from measles occur in developing countries with high levels of malnutrition and a lack of adequate health care.



Vaccination Recommendations

  • Two doses of measles vaccine, either alone or in a measles-rubella (MR), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) combination, should be the standard for all national immunization programs for children.
  • Students at post-high school educational institutions who do not have evidence of immunity against measles need two doses of the MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days.
  • Adults who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.


People at Highest Risk


  • Unvaccinated young children, especially infants less than 12 months of age.
  • Unvaccinated pregnant women.
  • People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



You can download the module mentioned in this story, and all 400+ of WiRED’s health modules, through WiRED’s Health Module Access Program (HealthMAP) by clicking here. This easy-to-use free program will enable you to create your own customized collection of health learning modules. You can learn more about HealthMAP through WiRED's animation.









^ Back to the Top


Thank you for donating to enable WiRED to continue its cost-free global health education programs.