In 2008, the United States experienced the largest outbreak of measles since 2001. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreak lasted from January through July, 2008 and affected 131 people, including 14 from California. Eight-nine percent of the cases were imported or associated with importation of measles from other countries. The age of those affected ranged from 5 months to 71 years. Sixteen cases involved infants under 12-months of age and thus were too young for vaccination. One case was presumed immune due to being born before 1957. While none died, 15 were hospitalized, most with pneumonia triggered by measles. Of the 131 cases, 112 (89%) were unvaccinated. Eight cases involved all unvaccinated children within one family in the Seattle area.
Before 1963, when a vaccine was introduced, more than half-a-million people got measles in the US, and 500 died annually. The last major US outbreak occurred from 1989 to 1991, when 55,000 people got measles resulting in 123 deaths. In 2001 there were 116 cases. Due to the success of the vaccination program, measles is no longer endemic in the US and ongoing transmission of the virus was declared eliminated in the US in 2000.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and causes fever, cough, rash, and eye irritation. Serious complications include encephalitis, pneumonia, and death. Measles is highly contagious and can be transmitted from 4 days prior to the onset of the rash to 4 days after onset of symptoms. The virus is easily transmitted and can remain active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours. Transmission is airborne, through coughing and sneezing and usually occurs in community and health care settings, i.e. child care centers, schools, hospitals, emergency rooms, and physicians' offices. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), measles continues to inflict nearly 18 million people each year, killing an estimated 242,000. Worldwide, 600 children, especially in poor countries, die each day from this very preventable disease.
The Measles Initiative, a partnership led by the American Red Cross, CDC, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and WHO, is working to reduce worldwide measles deaths by 90% by 2010.