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What to know about measles

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported on a national uptick in measles cases. As of March 21, 2024, there are no measles cases in Wisconsin; however, measles is a highly contagious disease that spreads through direct contact with infectious droplets or by airborne spread when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. For the latest information, visit the CDC’s Measles Cases and Outbreaks website.

Why is measles a concern? 

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. In fact, it’s so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. On a large college campus like UW-Madison, where people live and go to class in close proximity to one another, measles could spread quickly among people who do not have the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. 

Unfortunately, due to a decline in vaccination rates, measles has become more common in the United States in recent years despite previously being documented as eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. Measles is also still common in many parts of the world. 

What are the symptoms of measles? 

The first symptoms of measles appear 7-14 days after infection. They include: 

  • High fever (may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit) 
  • Cough 
  • Runny nose 
  • Red, watery eyes 

From there, tiny white spots (called Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth. Then, a rash breaks out on the face at the hairline and spreads downward on the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. 

Students experiencing symptoms of measles should contact UHS immediately at 608-265-5600. 

What should I do to prevent measles? 

Measles can be prevented with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. Most people received this vaccine in childhood, but you can check your vaccination status by consulting the Wisconsin Immunization Registry if you’re from Wisconsin, or by reaching out to your health care provider.  

If you have not received an MMR vaccine, you are encouraged to get vaccinated through a local pharmacy, your health care provider, or, if you’re a student, through UHS. Public Health Madison & Dane County also provides MMR vaccination to uninsured adults.