Unvaccinated Individuals Pose a Measles Outbreak Threat

Updated: Mar 11, 2019


Unvaccinated children and international travelers are at risk of contracting and spreading measles—a highly contagious viral disease. Symptoms of measles may include a rash, fever, cough, runny nose, and sore throat. The virus can be fatal in young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports three current measles outbreaks in Washington State, New York City, and New York State.

  • In Washington State, measles is spreading in communities with unvaccinated children. The virus was traced to a traveler returning from Eastern Europe to Clark County. In January, a family from Washington State who traveled to Hawaii with unvaccinated, infected children was quarantined to prevent the virus from spreading on the island.

  • Outbreaks in New York are attributed to unvaccinated children who brought measles back from Israel where a large measles outbreak is ongoing.

  • Measles outbreaks are prevalent worldwide. In 2018, large outbreaks occurred in Brazil, Venezuela, France, Ukraine, the Philippines, and Madagascar.

The District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia currently have few measles cases and no outbreaks. Infectious disease experts note that when a large percentage of a population is vaccinated, “herd immunity” protects the spread of the disease among unvaccinated individuals.

  • The red line in the graphic shows the District, Maryland, and Virginia with vaccination rates all above the recommended 90 percent rate compared to Washington State with a rate of only 76.5 percent.

2017 Measles Vaccination Rates (Source: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion )


The highly contagious measles virus spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes.

  • Nine out of 10 unvaccinated individuals exposed to an infected person become infected.

  • The virus can live up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed.

  • The virus is contagious for four days before and after the infection is obvious (i.e. a rash develops).

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