by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Every year we have a few measles outbreaks in the U.S., but they’re still pretty limited to a few hundred people. You’ve probably heard about the most recent one that started in Disneyland and may have led to over 100 people getting the measles so far in 2015.

The worry is the outbreaks are going to get more frequent and bigger, and that’s not just because of people coming to the U.S. from countries where fewer children are vaccinated, as some have speculated. The percentage of children getting vaccinated in the U.S. is down to 91 percent. Compare that to 89 percent in Mexico, for example, and you can see there’s not a lot of difference.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases ever. If you get exposed and you’re not immune, you have a 90 percent chance of getting it. Now, if one person gets the measles and everyone else is immune, it’s not going to spread. But if they’re not, it will, big time. Last year, some unvaccinated Amish missionaries caught it while overseas. They came home and almost 400 people in their community got it.

I’ve talked about the measles being one of those diseases that could come back in a survival situation. Even short-term, it could be a problem in shelters, where everyone’s close together.

So What?

A lot of people wonder, what’s the big deal? Everyone used to get measles as a rite of passage. But what many don’t realize is, back then, thousands were hospitalized each year from complications, and about 500 per year died. Around 1,000 or so others annually suffered permanent brain damage from encephalitis.

And the other thing is, it’s still so rare right now to see a case here in the U.S. that most health care workers, much less most of the general public, have never seen one. Even if you had it as a kid, I doubt you’d recognize it in someone else these days unless you were strongly suspecting it.

Knowing you have the measles is important for a few reasons:

  • Although the usual treatment is pretty general, there are some specifics, such as vitamin A for some people.
  • Knowing what complications to look for can help you catch and treat them early.
  • You won’t be worrying and wondering about what’s causing the rash and fever.
  • You’ll want to stay away from other people if you get it—especially from babies and anyone with a chronic illness. Actually you’ll want to stay away from everyone you can. Otherwise, because it’s so contagious, your spreading it will multiply the cases quickly, which, in the end, will more likely expose those babies and people with a chronic illness.

So just in case, please check out my two posts to refresh your memory on what to look for:


What about you? Have you ever known anyone who had complications? In fact, lately, have you know anyone who has had measles at all?

P.S. Think you’re immune? Here are three reasons for caution:
  1. The vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective. One dose of the current vaccine is believed to be 95 percent effective against measles. Two doses get the rate up to 99 percent. That’s great, but it means that even if you’re vaccinated, you still have a slight risk of getting the disease. And if you’re that one percent, well it’s a 100 percent risk for you.
  2. Grew up pre-vaccine? That doesn’t mean you had the measles. It’s estimated that only 95 percent of people actually got the measles back in the day. So for you older folks, be careful too.
  3. The old vaccine isn’t the same. Apparently, a different vaccine type that was not as effective as today’s was used up until 1968. If you have any reason to worry, you might check into getting the current type.

Not everyone can take the vaccine, including people who have had a severe allergic reaction from a vaccine in the past, are pregnant, have certain blood disorders, are taking chemotherapy, or have another reason to have a very weak immune system.



Measles outbreak 2015: What's the big deal? This is. | The Survival Doctor

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