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Measles is a highly contagious disease that is painful and potentially lethal. Measles is caused by a virus that spreads through the air when infected people speak or cough. It is so contagious that 9 out of 10 people who share a living space with an infected person will catch it too1. The good news is measles is easily preventable with the measles vaccine. In fact, if enough people get the measles vaccine, it is possible to eliminate measles entirely, like we did with smallpox2. In this article, we’ll talk about measles and some recent research that tracks its spread around the world3.   

Measles Symptoms 

First it is important to know what a measles infection looks like. A measles infection usually starts with a fever that lasts several days. People with measles will often have a cough, and some will get inflammation in their eyes. The tell-tale symptom of measles is a red rash that covers the entire body of people who are infected. The rash usually starts on the face and spreads downward. These symptoms usually last for about a week before resolving.  

Measles can also lead to life-threatening complications, especially in children younger than 5 years old. Measles can lead to pneumonia, which is a serious lung infection that can damage people’s breathing. Measles can also infect and inflame the brain in some cases, which is a condition called encephalitis. Lastly, measles can cause blindness in extreme cases where it infects peoples’ eyes. An estimated 2 out of every 1000 measles cases lead to death, usually from breathing failure or brain damage in these extreme cases1 

Measles Prevention 

The great news is this nasty virus and its deadly complications are easily preventable. The solution is the measles vaccine. In fact, billions of measles cases have already been prevented with the use of the measles vaccine around the globe. A recent study tracked global measles cases from 2000 to 2022 and saw a dramatic drop in cases over this period. As the measles vaccine was adopted around the world, measles cases decreased by almost 90% by 2019 3. The vaccine has also saved millions of lives. The researchers calculated the number of deaths we would have seen in the last 20 years without a measles vaccine. They then compared this estimate with the actual number of measles deaths over this period. It was found that the measles vaccine prevented 57 million deaths! 

Eliminating Measles 

Just like with smallpox, measles is a disease that can be eliminated with vaccination. Measles was already eliminated from certain regions of the world for several years4. If around 95% of people in a region receive both doses of the measles vaccine just once in their life, then measles becomes unable to spread in that region and dies off. However, not all regions of the world have been able to eliminate measles because there have been difficulties vaccinating enough people to slow the spread. The study above also saw a slight increase in global measles cases between 2019 and 2022. This increased happened due to some children falling behind on vaccination from disruptions during COVID-19. While this uptick is a warning sign, it also points to the clear cause-and-effect power of vaccination. When we fall behind on measles vaccination, measles cases go up; when we stay on top of vaccination, measles cases go away.  

Where to get the measles vaccine 

Most people get their measles vaccines in early childhood. The vaccine comes in two doses that are given a few years apart. After these two doses, the overwhelming majority of people become immune to measles for life. The measles vaccine is part of the series of routine vaccines that children get before starting school in the US. If you have children who have not gotten the measles vaccine, talk to your child’s pediatrician to schedule an appointment. You can find more information on vaccines and request your immunization record at CT DPH Immunizations. If we all play our part to vaccinate our children, we can get rid of measles for good and save the lives of children around the world.  


  1. Gastanaduy P, Haber P, Rota P, Patel M. Pinkbook: Measles | CDC. Published September 21, 2022. Accessed May 1, 2024. 
  2. Fenner F, Henderson DA, Arita I, Jezek Z, Ladnyi ID, Organization WH. Smallpox and Its Eradication. World Health Organization; 1988. Accessed May 2, 2024. 
  3. Minta AA. Progress Toward Measles Elimination — Worldwide, 2000–2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2023;72. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7246a3 
  4. World Health Organization. Region of the Americas is declared free of measles - PAHO/WHO | Pan American Health Organization. Published September 27, 2016. Accessed May 2, 2024. 
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a young girl getting a bandage on her upper arm after receiving a vaccine