Measles is one of the most contagious diseases ever known and is an important cause of death and disability among young children worldwide. Rubella can cause severe birth defects.
Measles is a highly contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. When one person has measles, 90 percent of the people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune. Being immune means someone has been vaccinated or has previously contracted the disease. The symptoms include a high fever, severe skin rash and cough.
In 2000, before the Measles & Rubella Initiative was formed, more than 562,000 children died worldwide from measles complications each year. Measles weakens the immune system and opens the door to secondary health problems, such as pneumonia, blindness, diarrhea, and encephalitis. Approximately 30 percent of reported measles cases have one or more complications. These debilitating effects are most common in children under five and adults over twenty. Poor children are more likely to be malnourished and have severe complications from measles. Even if a child recovers, he or she can be left with permanent disabilities.
While significant progress has been made thanks to the Measles & Rubella Initiative and its supporters, in 2016 measles still killed an estimated 90,000 children per year – mostly children less than five years of age. That means approximately 246 die from measles-related complications each day, or 10 deaths every hour. Yet measles can be completely prevented with two doses of a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine.
Rubella, also known as “German Measles”, is generally a mild disease but can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their children. If infected with rubella in the first trimester women have a very high risk of giving birth to a child with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). CRS often results in multiple birth defects including as heart problems, deafness and blindness. More than 100,000 children are born with CRS each year. The lifelong complications and disabilities can have an immeasurable emotional, social and financial cost for families. Like measles, rubella can be prevented with a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine. This can be delivered as a rubella vaccine alone, or combined with measles vaccine (MR) or with measles and mumps vaccines (MMR).
In many developing countries, parents do not have access to immunization services that could protect their children from this fate. Factors such as poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information can make it difficult for families to secure preventative vaccinations for each of their children.
The risk also remains in developed nations. Although measles and rubella was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 2002, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated residents are exposed to infected people, mostly through international travel.
Measles and rubella and CRS, however, are entirely preventable. Learn more about measles and rubella and contribute to the solution.
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Current Outbreaks Around the World
Updated September 13th, 2019