Wellness & Education

Measles by the Numbers 

When a new and deadly disease shows up, it’s natural to be frightened. We wonder if we or our loved ones will catch it, and if we do, will we survive. Before the invention of the measles vaccine in 1964, people felt this way about measles. The disease was so widespread that almost all children caught it.  By adulthood, most people who survived were immune.  

Pre-Vaccine Numbers 

Pre-1964, the approximate annual numbers were:  

  • 3 to 4 million people caught measles  
  • 400 to 500 people a year died of it. 
  • 48,000 were hospitalized  
  • 1000 people became disabled.  

Measles Complications  

Most people who die of measles die of complications from the disease. These include:  

  • Swelling of the brain, or encephalitis. This can cause convulsions, deafness or intellectual disability.  
  • About 1 in 20 measles patients will develop pneumonia.  
  • Blindness. 

Vaccine Success Threatened 

Thanks to the vaccine, these numbers decreased so dramatically that the US was declared “measles-free” in 2000. Unfortunately, the US did not remain “measles-free” for long. 

Two things caused measles to return: international travel from countries that were not fully vaccinated and pockets of people in the US who hadn’t gotten the vaccine. In 2019 over 1200 people in the US caught measles.  

The Future 

The last US measles death was in 2015. By contrast, currently about 134,200 people die of measles worldwide each year. If American vaccination rates continue to fall, some of those deaths will eventually occur in the US.