U.S. Measles Outbreak Could be Worst in Nearly Two Decades

Aileen M. Marty, M.D.
Director, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program

2014 is poised to become the worst year for measles in the U.S. since 1996. As of May 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has registered 187 reported cases of measles nationwide, which is close to last year's total of 189.

Measles Measles outbreaks have hit 17 states: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, new York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington. Ohio has the most reported cases, 68, and all of them are the result of infection brought back by four Amish missionaries who returned from the Philippines where there is a large, ongoing measles outbreak (more than 26,000 cases reported as of April 20).

The CDC has issued a Watch-Level 1 for travelers to the Philippines. This calls for travelers to the Southeast Asian country to Practice Usual Precautions including:

  • Getting a measles vaccine*.
  • Washing hands often; if soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Avoiding close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.

*Click here for CDC Travelers Health Notice: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/watch/measles-philippines

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. Typically, it presents as fever, tiny white spots in the mouth, runny nose, watery eyes, and a blotchy rash. Complications can occur, including ear infections, pneumonia, and although rarely, brain infections. According to the CDC, one or two of 1,000 children with measles will die.

Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, the virus infected about 500,000 Americans a year, causing 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations. It was officially eradicated in the U.S. in 2000. Case counts since then have ranged from 37 in 2004 to a high of 220 in 2011.

The FIU Health Travel Medicine Program and Clinic has the measles vaccine and can advise you on your vaccination and other health-related travel needs. For an appointment call 305-FIU-DOCS, 305-348-3627.

May 16, 2014