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Measles: Should you be concerned?

Last Modified: March 27, 2024

Diseases & Disorders, Family Medicine

Woman checking temperature

This post was written by Andrew Piropato, MD, PPG – Pediatrics

News of measles outbreaks occurring nationwide may have some on edge, wondering whether or not they should be concerned. Understanding the facts about the virus is key to making informed decisions about personal and public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that measles had been declared eliminated for nearly 20 years in the United States due to immunization and better control of the virus internationally. In the last 15 years, however, there have been local and regional outbreaks. In 2024, Indiana has had its first case in five years. 

Contracting Measles

Although the U.S. was able to maintain the status of eliminated for such a long period, the disease itself has not been eradicated worldwide. Measles is extremely contagious because it is spread through the air via droplets produced by coughing or sneezing, which linger in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours. That is more than enough time for someone to inhale or touch the particles and become infected.

There are two primary factors that lead to measles outbreaks in the U.S. First being typically related to either spread within a susceptible group, meaning those who are not vaccinated, only partially vaccinated or who have a compromised immune system. Second, are people returning from international travel from a destination where there is less control of the virus.


Indications that someone has contracted the virus typically include fever reaching 104 F or higher, cough and runny nose. These symptoms will last for a few days. Next a rash will begin to form in the mouth then spreads from head to toe. The illness typically lasts from one to two weeks.

Unfortunately, these symptoms are often misinterpreted as a common cold. Infected individuals are most contagious prior to the rash developing, so by the time it is diagnosed, people have already been to work, school, the gym or daycare.

Who is most vulnerable?

Measles can be a serious illness, especially in young children who are more susceptible to complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). About 1 out of 1,000 children who contract the virus die. Adults born before 1957 are presumed to be immune.

Adults or older children who are uncertain of their vaccination status should speak with their healthcare providers, especially if they work in a higher-risk area for transmission, such as healthcare facilities and schools, or if they are international travelers.


The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunization is highly effective, safe and routinely done at 1 and 4-year-old wellness checks. After the first dose of the vaccine, individuals have 93% protection for preventing transmission if exposed to the virus. After the second, they have 97% protection.

Population immunity is crucial to help prevent measles because not everyone can receive the vaccine. Those who are too young to have completed the series or whose immune system is down, for example someone receiving chemotherapy, or who has immune system diseases, cannot get the vaccine. When healthy individuals choose not to receive the vaccine and the population's immunity declines, the young and immune compromised are placed at risk.

Speaking with your provider about diseases and vaccinations is the best step in ensuring your health and well-being. If you do not have a provider, you can find one by visiting the website here or calling 877-PPG-TODAY. To learn more about pediatric primary care, including wellness exams and vaccinations, click here.

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