Measles Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Measles is a viral infection that today is most common in underdeveloped nations like Nigeria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,282 cases of the illness were confirmed in the United States in 2019.

This number, although relatively low compared to cases in other countries, was the highest the United States has seen since 1992.

This article highlights important facts and statistics you should know about measles.

Doctor holding a syringe with needle and giving a vaccination in hand patient. - stock photo

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Measles Overview

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. When people contract measles, they can develop fever, cough, pink eye (conjunctivitis), and a general feeling of being unwell.

A rash also develops in people with measles, which is the trademark sign of infection. Other symptoms are nonspecific and can be seen in many other diseases.

Measles Eradication in the United States

The eradication of measles in the United States began with the introduction of a vaccine in 1963. However, new outbreaks resurfaced during the late 1980s and early 1990s due to low vaccine availability in certain cities and the dense population of urban areas.

How Common Is Measles?

Measles is relatively uncommon in the United States because many people have been vaccinated against the viral infection. By July 1, 2022, only six cases of measles were confirmed in the United States. This number is a significant decrease from 2021’s 49 cases. 

In the past decade, measles cases have increased and decreased sporadically, with the most cases in 2019 and the least so far in 2022. The cause of the rise in measles cases is likely attributed to unvaccinated populations and overseas travel.

Measles Vaccination Statistics

According to the CDC, over 91% of adolescents and 90% of children under 13 are vaccinated against measles.

Measles by Ethnicity

Measles does not discriminate based on ethnicity. Every person who is unvaccinated or travels to an area where measles is more prevalent puts themselves at risk of contracting the viral infection.

When measles outbreaks resurfaced in the United States in the late 1980s, the populations most affected were people of Black and Hispanic populations. That is because vaccination availability was low in more populated areas and communities with high concentrations of Hispanic and Black residents.

Regarding hospitalizations caused by measles, outbreak data suggest that those of Hispanic and Asian descent are more likely than people of other ethnic groups to experience severe enough disease to require a stay in the hospital.

According to research, people who belong to the Amish community accounted for 99% of all U.S. measles cases in 2014, amounting to 12 to 15 cases per 1,000 people. That is partly due to most of the population being unvaccinated against the virus.

While the vast majority of those in the Amish community are White people of European descent, people of other ethnicities also belong to Amish communities.

Measles by Age and Gender

People of any age and gender can contract the measles virus. However, children are most commonly affected by the infection, and those under 18 typically account for the most cases in the United States.

In 2019, the number of cases per age group ranged as follows.

Measles Cases by Age Group in 2019
Age Group Cases (%)
Under 12 months 13
1–4 31
5–17 27
Over 18 29

While both males and females can contract the virus, males account for a slightly higher number of cases than females at 52.9%. This is especially true when reviewing data on people hospitalized because of a measles infection.

Why Do Children Account for More Measles Cases?

Children often have a weaker immune system than adults, making them more susceptible to viral infections. School-age children and infants account for more cases because of their vaccination status, which varies depending on the policies in place. 

Causes of Measles and Risk Factors

The paramyxovirus virus causes measles. The infection affects the respiratory system and spreads through respiratory droplets. If someone with the infection sneezes, coughs, or talks, they release droplets into the air that others can breathe in.

Measles is so contagious that roughly 90% of those who come into contact with an ill person will get infected. The virus can also live in the air and on surfaces for as long as two hours.

The most significant risk factors for contracting measles are age and vaccination status. Children not yet vaccinated against the virus are the most at risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Having incomplete vaccinations: People typically receive two doses of the vaccine that protects against measles. The second dose is a booster shot. If you have just one dose, you are not as protected against the virus.
  • Having a compromised immune system: Those with weakened or compromised immune systems are at an increased risk because their immune system, even while vaccinated, may not be able to respond effectively to the virus.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Those who lack proper nutrients, specifically vitamin A, are at an increased risk of a severe case of measles.
  • Travel: Traveling to areas where measles cases are high, especially while unvaccinated, significantly increases your risk of contracting the infection. 

Pregnancy and Measles Risk

Being pregnant and unvaccinated is another risk factor for contracting measles or a more severe case.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Measles?

Measles can be a deadly disease. However, in developed countries such as the United States, the mortality rate for measles is relatively low due to an advanced healthcare infrastructure.

People with severe measles cases or those under 5 are the most at risk of dying of measles. Roughly 1 in 1,000 measles cases result in death in the United States.

Typically, measles deaths are caused by complications from the viral infection. Certain complications that can increase the risk of death include:

What Is the Most Dangerous Complication?

The most dangerous complication of measles is neurological damage. Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord are the most likely to cause death.

Screening and Early Detection

There are no screening or early detection techniques for measles. However, people can get vaccinated to protect themselves. Vaccinations should be done as early as possible, and two shots are needed to reach the highest possible level of immunity.

The CDC recommends children begin their vaccinations at 12–15 months. The second dose is recommended at ages 4–6; however, it can be given as early as 28 days after the first dose.

While the vaccine isn’t always 100% effective, most vaccinated people are significantly protected against measles.

Vaccination Schedule for Teens and Adults

Teenagers and adults who have not been vaccinated against measles can receive both doses anytime as long as the first and second doses are 28 days apart.  


Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. While it is rare in the United States, cases have sporadically risen and fallen over the last decade. The rise is likely due to changing vaccination rates and international travel to areas of the world where the infection rates are much higher. In 2022, there have been six measles cases in the United States. In 2019, there were 1,282 documented cases.

The mortality rates for measles in the United States are low because of better healthcare access than in underdeveloped countries. While measles is easily transmissible, vaccinations are available and sometimes mandatory to help eradicate the spread of the viral infection throughout the United States. Since a person of any ethnicity, age, or sex can contract the disease, it is recommended that everyone who can get vaccinated do so.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many people die of measles in the United States?

    The mortality rate of measles is low in the United States. That can be attributed to healthcare availability and a low number of cases. Roughly 1 in every 1,000 U.S. cases of measles results in death.

  • How many people are unvaccinated against measles in the United States?

    While the majority of Americans have their vaccinations against measles, some do not. It’s estimated that less than 10% of the population has not been vaccinated against measles.

  • Should I be worried about measles?

    If you are vaccinated, and your children are as well, your risk is low. However, in some cases, people can still contract the infection with their vaccinations. If you are aware of someone who has the disease, be sure to distance yourself from them until they have recovered.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.