Frequently Asked Questions about Measles in the U.S.
Q: Do people in the United States still get measles?
A: Yes, but it's not very common. That's because most people in the United States are protected against measles through vaccination. Between 2000-2013, a range of 37 to 220 people per year in the United States were reported to have measles.
Q: Why do people still get measles in the United States?
A: Measles is brought into the United States. This happens when unvaccinated Americans or foreign visitors get measles while they're abroad, then bring the disease into the United States. They can spread measles to other people who are not vaccinated, which sometimes leads to outbreaks. This can occur in communities with unvaccinated people.
Q: Where do cases of measles that are brought into the United States come from?
A: Measles can be brought into the United States from any country where the disease still occurs or where outbreaks are occurring including Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. In 2014, the majority of cases brought into the United States have come from the Philippines, which has experienced a large outbreak.
Q: Why have there been more measles cases in the United States in recent years?
A: In 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014, there were more reported measles cases compared with previous years. CDC experts attribute this to:
- more measles cases than usual in some countries, such as in Europe, where Americans travel more often, and
- spreading of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.
For details about the increase in cases by year, see Measles Outbreaks.
Q: What does "measles elimination" mean?
A: Measles elimination is defined 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.
Q: Has measles been eliminated from the United States?
A: Yes. In 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country. This means that the disease is no longer native to the United States.
The United States was able to eliminate measles because it has a highly effective vaccination program and a strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks.
Q: How common was measles in the United States before the vaccine?
A: Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of those people, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles.
Q: Is measles a concern for the United States?
A: Yes. Since measles is still common in many countries, this disease will continue to be brought into the United States. Measles is highly contagious, so anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of getting the disease. People who get measles put others at risk who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or they have specific health conditions. In addition, communities with pockets of unvaccinated people are vulnerable to measles outbreaks.
Q: Will the United States ever get rid of measles completely?
A: Yes, it's possible. The first step is to eliminate measles from each country and region of the world. Once this happens, there will be no place from which measles can spread.
All member states in the six World Health Organization regions have committed to eliminating measles by the year 2020. Once a disease has been eliminated from every country, it is considered "eradicated" from the world. See the Measles and Rubella Initiative for more information.
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