The Forgotten Dangers of Measles

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 6:42am

Nearby Outbreak Highlights Potentially Dangerous Childhood Disease

As of yesterday (3/22/11), there have been nine confirmed cases of measles reported in Minnesota. The likely source is an infant who traveled to Kenya and returned in the beginning of February. Cases have ranged in age from 4 months to 4 years. Four of the cases were too young to receive vaccine, four were of age but were not vaccinated, and one has unknown vaccine status. There have been five hospitalizations and no deaths.
The proximity of this outbreak highlights the risks that parents take when they neglect or refuse timely vaccinations for their children and the danger that this poses to communities throughout Wisconsin.

Measles seems like an old relic of a disease. Adults over 50 may have faint childhood memories of measles. But we have almost totally forgotten the fact that measles is considered one of the most infectious viruses known to mankind. It has killed more children than any other disease in history. Before the introduction of the vaccine, measles killed hundreds of children in the U.S. every year and left more than 20,000 other infected infants blind, deaf or developmentally disabled.

While there have been no reported measles cases in Dane County since 2000, this growing nearby outbreak does not allow us to take our decade long measles-free status for granted. This is particularly important with the national decrease in the numbers of children getting vaccinated against this and other vaccine preventable childhood diseases. This downward trend was probably driven by the strident controversy about vaccine safety triggered by a now discredited British study.

Like all medical treatments, medications and vaccines, the decision to proceed comes down to weighing the benefits against the risks. Measles vaccine has been used for forty years and has proven to be effective and very safe. The risks of the disease however, are much greater.

According to the CDC, measles itself "causes fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die." Measles is highly communicable (spreadable). One infected person can put many other people at risk. And while measles levels are very low in the United States (1-2 cases a year in Wisconsin), it still kills nearly 200,000 people each year around the world.

The bottom line is that measles is a vaccine-preventable disease. The vaccine itself covers measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The recommended first dose is for children 12 - 15 months of age and the second is at four to six years of age. Both doses are required for attendance in Wisconsin schools.

Our most recent available data shows that 83 percent of Dane County children received their first MMR vaccine by 19 months of age, which compares to 92 percent in Wisconsin and 85 percent in the U.S."

Now is a particularly good time to make sure that you and your children are protected by having up to date immunizations against measles, as well as the other vaccine preventable diseases.

Vaccinations are available through your health care provider or clinic. They are also available through Public Health at our clinics. For details on eligibility and schedules, please see our immunization website at:

For more information on measles, check the CDC's website at




  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302