A History of Measles in the United States

In January 2019, Washington state declared a local public health emergency (PDF, 52 KB) after confirming 26 individual cases of measles — less than 20 years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that measles had been eliminated from the United States.

Outbreaks — three or more cases in a single jurisdiction — can occur quickly due to the nature of measles. An individual with measles can infect up to 90 percent of people close to them; however, vaccination makes spread of the disease highly preventable.

Two doses of the measles vaccine are about 97 percent effective in preventing the disease, according to the CDC. MPH@GW, the online Master of Public Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health from the George Washington University, used data from the CDC to create the following timeline, which aims to help explain the evolution, elimination and resurgence of measles in the United States. Keep reading to learn more.

Measles was first reported in the United States in 1765, eventually killing about 6,000 people a year in the early 20th century. The creation and licensure of the measles vaccine in 1963, followed by widespread vaccination, led to the elimination of measles in the United States in 2000. Since then, individual cases and outbreaks are on the rise — especially among pockets of unvaccinated individuals.

Citation for this content: MPH@GW, the online MPH program from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University