Measles Is Serious: Take Care Before and After Travel
Photo credit: Andre Berro, CDC San Francisco Quarantine Station
Are you traveling overseas? Make sure you and your family are vaccinated for preventable diseases before you travel. Did you know that measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world? Measles is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. It is so contagious that anyone who is exposed to it and is not immune will probably get the disease. Symptoms include fever; runny nose; red, watery eyes; cough; and a rash all over the body. Measles can cause serious illness, even death.
Measles is worldwide
Measles remains a common disease in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. Each year around the world, measles infects about 20 million people and kills about 164,000 people; 100,000 of these deaths are children. More than half of these deaths occur in India. Measles can also make a pregnant woman have a miscarriage or give birth prematurely.
What kinds of serious illness can measles cause? One out of 20 children with measles gets pneumonia. About 1 out of 1,000 gets inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
Measles is almost gone from the United States due to vaccination. When cases do arise, it is often from international travel. The disease is brought into the United States by people who get infected in other countries. They then spread the disease to others, and this can cause outbreaks of measles.
Anyone who is not immune or protected with vaccination against measles is at risk of getting infected when traveling overseas. Check CDC's Travelers' Health website for your destination to find tips to keep you healthy while you travel.
Measles on a flight—a recent case
It just takes one passenger with measles to expose you and others on your flight. Imagine if the following event happened on your flight and your family was not protected…
Recently, a contagious 8-month-old baby with measles exposed passengers on an international flight to the United States. CDC works 24/7 to protect the public from the spread of disease. CDC searched 15 states for 53 people who were on board the same flight and considered exposed. This search is called a contact investigation.
CDC Quarantine Station [PDF - 623KB] staff gave the contact information for the exposed passengers to local and state health departments, so they could call the passengers and tell them they had been exposed to measles. Health department staff then evaluated whether the exposed passengers were already immunized or needed preventive care such as a measles vaccine or medicine to prevent illness (immunoglobulin). Or if the passengers were sick, health department staff determined if they should be isolated (separated from other people who are not immune) and treated.
If you are traveling overseas, your baby can be vaccinated. In the United States, babies typically receive their first dose of a combination vaccine that protects them against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) when they are 12–15 months old. But for families who are traveling overseas to where measles is spreading, babies as young as 6 months can receive measles vaccine.
See a doctor before you travel, and be sure to tell your doctor where you will be traveling overseas. Please protect your family and others before you travel.
After you return
Watch your health for 3 weeks after you return. If you or your children get sick with a rash and fever, call your doctor. Be sure to tell your doctor that you traveled and where. Your travel history helps the doctor think about diseases that might not normally occur in the United States.
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