The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today said it has investigated more than 60 suspected cases of measles, with one confirmed, so far this year. During the same period last year, DPH investigated 21 suspect cases and none were confirmed measles.
Nationally, there have been 704 cases of measles in 2019 spread across 22 states. This is the largest number of cases reported in the United States since 1994 and since measles was eliminated in 2000. The current case count far exceeds the total number of cases reported nationally for all of 2018 (372 cases). The U.S. outbreak is taking place in the context of a large international outbreak of measles. According to the World Health Organization, there has been a 300 percent increase in measles this year compared to last year.
“Every day, Massachusetts residents travel to places where measles is occurring and every day visitors arrive here from places where measles is occurring,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “Every time there is a confirmed case of measles, hundreds of people may be exposed.”
People who have been previously vaccinated or have had measles in the past are least impacted by this outbreak. Others who are exposed to measles and do not have evidence of previous immunity may need to be quarantined if they do not get vaccinated rapidly following the exposure.
“I urge all Massachusetts residents to take this health outbreak seriously,” Commissioner Bharel said. “Make sure you have evidence of immunity to measles. If you don’t, you should get vaccinated.”
Evidence of immunity includes written documentation of two doses of MMR vaccine, a positive blood test called a titer which shows immunity to measles, or a previous laboratory-confirmed diagnosis of measles. Anyone who does not have evidence of immunity to measles and is over 12 months of age should get a dose of MMR vaccine as soon as possible. Children six months through 11 months who are going to be traveling internationally should also receive at least one dose of MMR vaccine.
Measles is very contagious. Early symptoms of measles occur 10 days to 2 weeks after exposure and may resemble a cold (with fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes) and a rash occurs on the skin 2-4 days after the initial symptoms develop. The rash usually appears first on the head and then moves down the body. The rash typically lasts a few days and then disappears in the same order. Medical complications can include pneumonia and encephalitis. Some people need to be hospitalized. People with measles may be contagious for up to four days before the rash appears and for four days after the day the rash appears.