CDC Issues Warning About the Rise of Measles Cases Across the U.S.

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Feb 25, 2024

In 2000, the measles disease was considered completely eradicated in the United States. However, just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that measles may be making a comeback. 

There were 23 confirmed cases from December 1st, 2023, to January 23, 2024, and even more have appeared since then. The CDC is encouraging physicians to be on high alert. 

Understanding the Measles Disease

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can be spread through bodily fluids as well as through the air we breathe. 

The arm and hand of a woman who is infected with measles

Source: iStock

While in most cases, the symptoms are that of a bad cold, such as a fever, rash, aches and pains, runny nose, or a cough, for others, the measles disease can be fatal. And while anyone can contract measles, it is most common in children.

There Is a Vaccine for Measles

By the early 1970s, the measles vaccine had been perfected and was being given to the vast majority of American children. And today, more than 90% of all Americans have been vaccinated against the disease.

A doctor's assistant brings a tray with a vaccine against measles, rubella, mumps, and chicken pox

Source: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

While the vaccine has certainly played a big part in eradicating the disease, it is not 100% effective. According to the CDC, 3% of people who received both doses will contract measles, while 7% of those who only got one dose are likely to become infected. 

The 2024 Measles Outbreak

For nearly 50 years, there have been limited cases of measles in the United States, but every so often, there is a minor outbreak. Such as in 2019, when 1,274 cases were confirmed, which was the greatest number of cases since 1992. 

Outside of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters

Source: James Leynse/Corbis/Getty Images

Now, just six weeks into 2024, the CDC has already confirmed 23 cases. Naturally, they are certainly concerned that a large outbreak is imminent. 

How Do People Contract Measles?

Because most Americans have been vaccinated against measles, it’s extremely uncommon for residents to contract the disease within the country. Unless they come in contact with someone who has traveled abroad. 

Map of the world in the background while a hand holds a red toy plane

Source: Freepik

In this case, that’s exactly what happened. The CDC reported that the majority of the current cases personally contracted the disease after international travel, while the others were those who were simply near those who traveled.

Where Did Americans Contact Measles?

The CDC noted, “The increased number of measles importations seen in recent weeks is reflective of a rise in global measles cases and a growing global threat from the disease.”

A Palestinian child is vaccinated against measles and vitamin A deficiency at Al-Shouhda Rafah health center

Source: Adid Katib/Getty Images

The World Health Organization reported that in 2022, there were 9 million cases of measles around the world, including 136,00 deaths. They also noted that those numbers signify a 43% increase from 2021. 


Many Americans Are Exposed to Measles in Europe

When people think of highly contagious diseases, they often think of underdeveloped countries without access to vaccinations and modern medicines.

Map of measles cases in 2023 in Europe created by the EDEC

Source: EDEC

But the most prevalent outbreak of measles, which has undoubtedly affected the majority of infected Americans, is in Europe. In fact, the European World Health Organization (WHO) announced that they confirmed more than 42,000 cases on the continent last year. 


Europe Had 30x the Cases in 2023 as it Did the Year Before

More than 42,000 cases is a lot by anyone’s standards, but since Europe only reported 931 cases in 2022, that number is even more terrifying. 

Regional director for WHO Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, speaks at a press conference

Source: @WHO_Europe/X

Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the regional director for WHO in Europe, explained, “We have seen in the Region not only a 30-fold increase in measles cases, but also nearly 21,000 hospitalizations and 5 measles-related deaths. This is concerning.”


The Majority of the Confirmed Cases Are Unvaccinated Children

It’s important to understand that the vast majority of those infected in both Europe and the United States are unvaccinated children. 

A young toddler walks through an airport with her blue luggage

Source: Freepik

The problem is that fewer and fewer newborn children are being vaccinated. UNICEF explained, “The COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted childhood immunization, with 67 million children missing out entirely or partially on routine immunization between 2019 and 2021, leaving them vulnerable to a range of preventable diseases.”


“Vaccination Is the Only Way to Protect Children”

Dr. Klunge from WHO went on to say, “Vaccination is the only way to protect children from this potentially dangerous disease. Urgent vaccination efforts are needed to halt transmission and prevent further spread.”

A general view of the World Health Organization in Switzerland

Source: Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

However, whether his and other experts’ warnings will be heard in time to stop a global outbreak is still unknown. 


What Can Be Done Now?

In the meantime, the CDC wants physicians around the country to be on high alert, especially pediatricians.

Pediatrician examining a young girl in his office

Source: Freepik

Within the statement released on January 25, 2024, the CDC explained: “Healthcare providers should be on alert for patients who have: (1) febrile rash illness and symptoms consistent with measles (e.g., cough, coryza, or conjunctivitis), and (2) have recently traveled abroad, especially to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks.”


Parents Can Also Be on the Lookout for Symptoms

Of course, the best thing a parent can do to prevent their child from contracting measles is to vaccinate them as soon as possible. 

A children's doctor injects a vaccine against measles, rubella, mumps and chickenpox to an infant

Source: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

However, as there is still a small chance that a vaccinated child can become sick if exposed, it’s important that parents around the country and the world understand the symptoms and contact their pediatrician immediately if any appear.