Measles Outbreak Hitting Adults Hardest

By Brenda Goodman, MA
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Feb. 3, 2015 -- The ongoing measles outbreak may have started at Disney theme parks, but the CDC says it's not just for kids.

"We are starting to see more adults get measles and spread it," Anne Schuchat, MD, said in a press briefing last week. She's the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

In just the first month of this year, 102 cases of measles were reported in 14 states, according to the CDC. That's the greatest number of cases since measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. One outbreak -- the one linked to two Disney parks in California -- is responsible for 92% of cases.

According to new numbers from California, 62% of the 92 cases they've seen in that state since December are in adults older than 20.

As a result, the CDC is urging adults to get vaccinated.

"If you're not sure if you've had measles vaccine or not, or if you never had measles, we urge you to contact your doctor or nurse and get vaccinated. There's no harm in getting another MMR vaccine if you've already been vaccinated," Schuchat said.

Measles starts with symptoms that look like the cold or flu: high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Two to three days later, white spots might appear in the mouth. Three to five days after the first symptoms start, the telltale red, spotty rash appears. The rash typically starts on the face near the hairline and works its way down the body. A fever may spike with the appearance of those spots.

Children younger than 5 and adults over 20 tend to be most vulnerable to measles' complications, including ear infections, diarrhea, lung infections, brain swelling, and very rarely, death.

"It can be a serious disease for people of all ages," Schuchat said.

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SOURCES: Anne Schuchat, MD, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. "Measles", California Department of Public Health, Updated Feb. 2, 2015. "Measles Cases and Oubreaks", CDC, Updated Feb. 2, 2015.

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