Measles is Increasing-- But It Doesn't Have To Be

A parent takes the temp of a sick child in bed

We’re hearing some news about measles outbreaks in the U.S. and the world lately— including an outbreak in Philadelphia. What’s going on with these recent outbreaks and what do you need to know?  

I don’t even know what measles is!

Have you heard of measles, but don’t really know what it is? It’s probably because routine childhood vaccinations made measles so rare, it was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. But those of you born in the early and mid-20th century probably remember the impact measles had on our communities. Before the 1960s, when the measles vaccine became available, millions of people each year got measles, tens of thousands each year were hospitalized, and hundreds each year died. It was a major illness that affected many people in the U.S. 

When people get measles today, even with modern medicine, it can be a very serious illness. Take Joshua’s story, a 30-year-old software developer who didn’t know he wasn’t vaccinated: 

Joshua Nerius, a 30-year-old software product manager in Chicago, developed a high fever and a rash. Doctors prescribed antibiotics, but Nerius just got sicker and sicker.

Joshua went to the emergency room, where a doctor said it looked a lot like the measles. Had he been vaccinated as a child?

Nerius texted the question to his mother. She sent back a thumbs-down emoji.

His next stop was an isolation room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Nerius became so weak that at one point, he couldn’t walk without assistance. He lost 25 pounds. It took months to fully recover.


Joshua said his parents thought they were doing the right thing, but were motivated by vaccine misinformation.

Why should I care about measles now? 

Right now, the risk of measles in the U.S. is still low, but outbreaks can be introduced from unvaccinated people who travel to other countries. 

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world. It spreads incredibly easily and can hang around in the air for up to 2 hours in an airspace after the infected person leaves the area. In fact, up to 9 out of 10 people around a person with measles will become infected if they’re not vaccinated. That’s why if someone has measles and goes into a public space, like an airport, dozens or hundreds of people could be exposed. 

The measles can be serious for many people. From the CDC:
•    1 in 5 people who get measles will be hospitalized
•    1 in 1,000 will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage
•    1-3 out of 1,000 people will die, even with the best care

Protect your family by getting yourself and your kids vaccinated.

The measles vaccine has 97% effectiveness, which means that if you get the vaccine, you’re highly protected from getting sick (and even more protected from severe disease). During the U.S.’s last major measles outbreak in 2019, nearly 90% of cases were among people who weren’t vaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. When the measles finds a group of unvaccinated people, it can spread very quickly. The MMR vaccine is very safe and it and its ingredients do not cause autism

The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles.

You can check your or your child’s vaccine records with the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. (If you or your child received vaccines outside of Wisconsin, those vaccines might not be in WIR. Adults might not have their childhood vaccinations documented in WIR.)

Are you uninsured or have kids uninsured or on BadgerCare? You can make an appointment with us on our website. If you have insurance, reach out to your doctor to get caught up on your vaccines. 

We were inspired to write this blog post from this Your Local Epidemiologist blog

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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