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Measles --- United States, 2004

Measles is a highly infectious, acute viral illness that can cause severe pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis, and death. During 2004, a total of 37 cases (incidence: <1 case per million population) was reported to CDC by local and state health departments, the lowest number of measles cases ever reported in 1 year in the United States and a decrease of 16% from the previous low of 44 cases in 2002 (1). This report describes the epidemiology of measles in the United States in 2004, documenting the absence of endemic measles and the continued risk for internationally imported measles cases that can result in indigenous transmission.

Case Characteristics

Of the 37 cases, 34 (92%) were confirmed by laboratory testing (i.e., detection of measles-specific IgM antibodies or measles virus) and the remaining three (8%) were confirmed by meeting the clinical case definition (2) and by being epidemiologically linked to a laboratory-confirmed case. Confirmed measles cases occurred predominantly among preschool-aged children (aged 1--4 years), with 18 cases (49%), followed by children aged 5--19 years, with seven cases (19%), and persons aged 20--34 years and infants aged <12 months, with five cases each (14%); two cases occurred in persons aged >35 years. Three states accounted for 49% of cases: Washington (seven cases), California (six cases), and New York (five cases, including four from New York City); 11 other states reported one to three cases. No cases were reported during 32 of the 52 reporting weeks; 12 consecutive weeks was the longest period during which no cases were reported (Figure). The maximum number of reported cases occurring during a single week was four, and the median number of cases per week was one (range: zero to four cases).

Twenty-seven (73%) of the 37 cases were imported*; 14 (52%) cases occurred in U.S. residents who acquired measles while traveling abroad, and 13 (48%) occurred in foreign nationals who acquired disease abroad and traveled to the United States. The countries from which measles was imported were China (13 cases), India (four), Bangladesh (two), and Thailand (two), with six other countries contributing one case each (Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom). Of the 27 persons with imported measles cases, 13 (48%) were infectious during aircraft flights (i.e., rash onset occurred within 4 days before through 4 days after the date of arrival). One case of transmission after exposure on an aircraft flight was documented in a passenger who had been vaccinated with 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine and who was seated next to a person with infectious disease. All 14 U.S. residents with imported cases were eligible for measles vaccination, according to recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (3). Of these, nine (64%) were unvaccinated, three (21%) had unknown vaccination status, and two (14%) had been vaccinated with >1 dose of measles-containing vaccine. Of the 13 imported cases among non-U.S. residents, 10 (77%) were in unvaccinated persons and three (23%) were in persons with unknown vaccination status.

Ten (27%) of the cases were indigenous, of which six (60%) were import-linked and four (40%) had unknown sources of exposure (two occurring in a two-case chain of transmission and two sporadic cases with no epidemiologic link to any other measles case). Eight (80%) cases occurred in vaccine-eligible persons (i.e., aged >12 months and born after 1957); of these, five (63%) persons were unvaccinated, one (13%) had unknown vaccination status, and two (25%) had been vaccinated.


During 2004, two measles outbreaks, defined as three or more epidemiologically linked cases, were reported to CDC. These outbreaks occurred in five states and accounted for 13 (35%) of the 37 cases. In one outbreak, nine children aged 12--18 months who acquired disease while in orphanages in China traveled as adoptees to three states (Maryland, New York, and Washington). One case of secondary spread was identified in a California resident aged 19 years with a nonmedical exemption for measles vaccination who had had close contact with one of the adoptees (4). In the second outbreak, a U.S. student aged 19 years with a nonmedical exemption for measles vaccination was infected in India and returned to Iowa, where two secondary cases occurred: one in an unvaccinated close contact of the index patient and one in a person who had been seated next to the index patient on an aircraft (5).

Viral Genotypes

Three genotypes of measles virus were identified among viral samples collected from nine patients. D8, a genotype found in South Asia, was identified from cases in the outbreak arising from the U.S. traveler returning from India, a two-case chain of transmission resulting from travel of the index patient from India, and a single case imported from Bangladesh. Genotype H1, endemic in East Asia, was detected from cases in the outbreak traced to adoptees from China and from an unrelated two-case chain of transmission involving an adoptee from China. Virus isolated from a single case imported from the Philippines was determined to belong to genotype D3.

Reported by: G Dayan, MD, S Redd, C LeBaron, MD, Epidemiology and Surveillance Div, National Immunization Program; P Rota, PhD, J Rota, MPH, W Bellini, PhD, Div of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Editorial Note:

The 37 confirmed cases in 2004 represent a record low number of reported measles cases since measles became a nationally reportable disease in 1912. The epidemiology of measles in 2004 confirms the previous finding that endemic transmission of measles virus has been eliminated in the United States (6). Thirty-three (89%) cases were import-associated (i.e., imported or import-linked), and 14 imported cases occurred among U.S. residents who contracted measles while traveling abroad. Sixty-four percent of the imported cases among U.S. residents could have been prevented if long-standing ACIP recommendations concerning measles vaccination of foreign travelers (3) had been followed.

Of the 27 persons with imported cases in 2004, 13 (48%) traveled on aircraft while infectious. Measles virus is a highly infectious pathogen, and intercontinental flights create the potential for prolonged exposure. However, on the basis of available data, the risk for in-flight measles transmission among passengers appears to be low (7). Of the hundreds of persons on the same flights as the 13 persons who traveled while infectious in 2004, only one case of secondary transmission was identified, in a person seated immediately next to an infectious passenger. For the 8-year period (1996--2004) for which such transmission data have been recorded, 117 passengers with imported measles cases were considered infectious while traveling by aircraft (carrying an estimated 10,000 passengers), but only four secondary-spread cases were identified from three index patients (CDC, unpublished data, 1996--2004). Seating location was recorded for two of the three index patients, both of whom were seated immediately adjacent to the secondary-spread patients. The low in-flight attack rate might be related to high vaccination/immunity levels among persons traveling by air (most of whom are adults) and to vertical airflow patterns within airplanes, which might decrease in-flight exposure to measles.

As long as measles is endemic in most countries worldwide, sustaining measles elimination in the United States will require maintenance of high levels of vaccination coverage (i.e., >90%) (8), vigilance in detecting and containing imported cases, and enhanced surveillance to detect and characterize cases and identify sources and viral genotypes.


This report is based, in part, on data contributed by state and local health departments.


  1. CDC. Epidemiology of measles---United States, 2000--2003. MMWR 2004;53:713--6.
  2. CDC. Manual for the surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases. 3rd edition. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2002. Available at
  3. CDC. Measles, mumps, and rubella---vaccine use and strategies for elimination of measles, rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome and control of mumps: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR 1998;47(No. RR-8).
  4. CDC. Update: measles among children adopted from China. MMWR 2004;53:459.
  5. CDC. Postexposure prophylaxis, isolation, and quarantine to control an import-associated measles outbreak---Iowa, 2004. MMWR 2004;53:969--71.
  6. Papania MJ, Seward JF, Redd SB, Lievano F, Harpaz R, Wharton ME. Epidemiology of measles in the United States, 1997--2001. J Infect Dis 2004;189(Suppl 1):S61--8.
  7. Amornkul PN, Takahashi H, Bogard AK, Nakata M, Harpaz R, Effler PV. Low risk of measles transmission after exposure on an international airline flight. J Infect Dis 2004;189(Suppl 1):S81--5.
  8. CDC. National, state, and urban area vaccination levels among children aged 19--35 months---United States, 2004. MMWR 2005; 54:717--21.

* Imported cases are those in persons infected outside the United States.

Indigenous cases are those in persons infected in the United States. Indigenous cases are classified into three groups: import-linked (i.e., epidemiologically linked to an imported case); imported virus (i.e., cases that cannot be linked epidemiologically to an imported case but for which imported virus has been isolated from the patient or from an epidemiologically linked patient); and unknown source (i.e., all other cases acquired in the United States for which no epidemiologic link or virologic evidence indicates importation).


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Date last reviewed: 12/7/2005


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