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Can Measles Cause Injury and/or Death?

Can measles cause injury and deathWorldwide, measles is one of the leading causes of death in children living in undeveloped countries. In 2008 there were 164,000 deaths attributed to measles globally, mostly children under the age of 5.1 In the U.S. in 2009, there were just two deaths attributed to measles; zero in 2008; zero in 2007 and 2006; and one in 2005.2

Complications from measles include pneumonia, croup, and encephalitis.3 According to the CDC, 1 out of 10 children with measles develop an ear infection; 1 in 20 get pneumonia and 1 in 1,000 may develop encephalitis and 1 or 2 in 1,000 may die. It also can cause diarrhea in less than 10 percent of cases. Measles also can cause a miscarriage in a pregnant woman, or cause her to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.4,5 Other complications include appendicitis, hepatitis, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), thrombocytopenia (blood disorder), and death.6

In developing countries, where serious malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency are common, measles has been known to kill as many as 1 out of 4 people7 and lead to long-term health problems such as blindness, chronic lung disease, failure to thrive and recurrent infections.8

A rare but fatal disease of the central nervous system, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE - a progressive, debilitating and deadly brain disorder) also can develop later in life after a measles infection earlier in life.9 Signs of SSPE, according to CDC, are: 

  • Changes in personality
  • Gradual onset of mental deterioration
  • Myoclonia (muscle spasms or jerks)
  • An elevated anti-measles antibody (IgGP in the serum and cerebrospinal fluid)
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Measles and the Measles vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

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1 World Health Organization. Media Center-Measles Fact Sheet. Oct. 2011. 

2CDC.gov. Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2009. National Vital Statistics Reports. March 16, 2011. Vol 59, No. 4. 

3Perry RT, Halsey NA. The Clinical Significance of Measles: A Review. J Infect Dis. 2004. 189 (Supplement 1): 54-516. 

4CDC.gov. Measles (Rubeola). Overview of Measles Disease. May 6, 2011. 

5CDC.gov. Measles (Rubeola). Complications of Measles. Aug. 31, 2009. 

6Stratton K, Ford A, Rusch E, Clayton EW, editors. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality.  Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. National Academies Press: 2012.  

7CDC.gov. Measles (Rubeola). Complications of Measles. Aug. 31, 2009.  

8Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. Department of Child and Adolescent Health. World Health Organization. Treating Measles in Children. 2004. MeaslesInitiative.org.  

9 CDC.gov. Measles (Rubeola). Complications of Measles. Aug. 31, 2009. 

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