Questions & Answers
Measles - The Disease
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Rate and Spread

  1. How common is measles in the United States?

    Before a vaccine was licensed in1963, there were an estimated 3 to 4 million cases of measles each year. In the years following 1963, the number of measles cases dropped dramatically, with only 1,497 cases in 1983, the lowest annual total reported up to that time.

    From 1989 to 1991, 55,622 cases were reported with a total of 123 measles-associated deaths. Half of the cases and deaths were in young children. The most important cause of this epidemic was low immunization rates among preschool-age children. Due to increased immunization efforts after this epidemic, measles cases fell during the 1990s. Only 44 cases were reported in 2002. However, measles is still common in many other countries in the world and can easily be imported, so continued immunization against the disease is still important.

  2. How does measles spread from one person to another?
    Measles is highly contagious. Infected people are usually contagious from about 4 days before their rash starts and for up to 4 days afterwards. The measles virus resides in the mucus in the nose and throat of infected people. When they sneeze or cough, droplets spray into the air and the droplets remain active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours.

  3. How long is someone with measles contagious?
    Measles is highly contagious and can be transmitted from 4 days before the rash becomes visible to 4 days after the rash appears.

  4. Can you get measles more than once?

  5. If I think someone has been exposed to measles, what should I do?
    Refer anyone exposed to measles to their doctor immediately. If a child has not been vaccinated, measles vaccine may prevent illness if given within 72 hours of exposure. Immune globulin (a blood product containing antibodies to the measles virus) may prevent or lessen the severity of measles if given within 6 days of exposure.