Protect Yourself, Your Family Against Measles

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 | 11:06am

U.S. Outbreaks Remind of Importance of Vaccination

NASHVILLE– The Tennessee Department of Health urges parents and other caregivers to make sure all children are vaccinated against measles. While measles was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000 thanks to widespread vaccination, outbreaks have occurred in recent years in pockets of unvaccinated people in communities across the country. The most recent outbreak has been in Minnesota this summer which sickened 79 people; that is more measles cases than were reported in all of the U.S. in 2016. Most of those sickened in the Minnesota outbreak were children under 10 years of age who had not been vaccinated.

“Measles can be deadly, and remains a common disease in parts of the world where fewer people are vaccinated,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “The Minnesota outbreak is just the most recent reminder about the importance of vaccines and how they protect the most vulnerable people in our communities, including infants and those with health conditions that cannot be immunized. Be sure you protect yourself and your family by getting vaccinated against measles.”

Tennessee has also experienced a recent outbreak of measles. An outbreak in Memphis infected seven people in 2016. Six of the seven people infected with measles in this outbreak had not been vaccinated. Prior to the 2016 outbreak, there had only been nine previous cases of measles reported in Tennessee since 2004 thanks to good efforts by parents to have their children immunized with two doses of the measles vaccine.

“Almost all people in Tennessee are vaccinated against measles and that's important because it takes a very high vaccination rate to protect the community,” said Tennessee Immunization Program Director Kelly Moore, MD, MPH. “Measles virus is highly contagious and spreads quickly among people who are not vaccinated. The measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR vaccine is safe and readily available across Tennessee, and is required for children in daycare and schools statewide. We urge everyone who hasn’t had it or isn’t sure if they’ve been vaccinated to talk with their health care providers for guidance.”

Measles can be serious, especially for young children, and can lead to pneumonia, swelling of the brain and death. The measles virus is carried in the nose and throat of an infected person and is spread through coughing, sneezing, even breathing. It remains alive for up to two hours in the air or on surfaces, and is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected by vaccination.

“We need to remain vigilant,” said TDH Assistant Commissioner for Family Health and Wellness Morgan McDonald, MD. “As long as measles exists elsewhere in the world and there are clusters of unvaccinated people here, another outbreak could happen. We must keep up our guard by working to have everyone who can be vaccinated get this important health protection for themselves and their loved ones.”

All children should have their first measles vaccinations at age 12-15 months, followed by a second dose at four to six years of age. Anyone attending school, college, working in healthcare or traveling outside the U.S. should have two doses of this vaccine. Teens and adults should check with their doctors to make sure they are protected against measles. People as young as six months of age should be protected against measles before leaving for international trips. 

For more information about measles, visit

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at