In 2014, the United States is experiencing a record number of measles cases. From January 1 to August 29, there have been 592 confirmed measles cases reported to CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). This is the highest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000.

Measles rash Image/CDC
Measles rash

The CDC defines “measles elimination” as  the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. In such areas, there may still be measles cases, but they are from infected people who bring the disease into the area.

During the same period in 2013, a total of 159 cases of measles were reported, in which most cases were in persons who were unvaccinated. In fact, since  measles elimination was declared in the United States in 2000, the US has averaged 60 cases (range: 37–220) from 2001-2012.

As in previous years, the 2014 outbreak saw the majority of cases were in the unvaccinated.

Measles has been reported in 21 states–Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota,  Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Worldwide, there are estimated to be 20 million cases and 164,000 deaths each year. More than half of the deaths occur in India.

Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. The disease of measles and the virus that causes it share the same name. The disease is also called rubeola. Measles virus normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs.

Measles spreads through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing. It is so contagious that any child who is exposed to it and is not immune will probably get the disease.

Symptoms of measles include 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. About one out of 1,000 gets encephalitis, and one or two out of 1,000 die.