Let’s Keep Measles Out of North Dakota!

North Dakota has been measles-free since 2011, but recent measles outbreaks in Ohio and Minnesota are a good reminder that this dangerous disease is just a quick drive or plane ride away.

Measles is one of the most contagious illnesses. Since it is airborne, a single person can infect as many as 18 others. Before vaccines to prevent measles became available, nearly everyone caught the disease during childhood. These days, measles prevention is simple: get two doses of the measles vaccine.

North Dakota measles vaccination rates have been declining in recent years. During the 2021-2022 school year, 92.23% of N.D. kindergarteners were fully vaccinated against measles – down from 94.42% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some schools have vaccination coverage at 100%, other schools have significantly lower rates. Only 81.5% of infants between the ages of 19 and 35 months in N.D. have received their first dose of measles vaccine, meaning that nearly one in five toddlers in North Dakota have zero protection from measles if they are exposed at child care, by a family member or in the community. To achieve community immunity, vaccination rates must be at 95% or above to protect against rapid spread of measles. Parents can check their child’s school and county vaccination rates on the NDHHS website.

The impacts of measles outbreaks are huge. A 2017 measles outbreak cost Minnesota over $1 million to contain. Non-vaccination can lead to many missed days of school and work; if an unvaccinated person is exposed to measles, they have a 90% chance of contracting the disease, and they must quarantine for days seven through 21 following exposure. Recent outbreaks in California have led to closures of entire schools for weeks.

There are some steps you can take to keep your family and community safe. Make sure you and your entire family are vaccinated against measles. Children should receive their first dose of measles vaccine (as the combination MMR vaccine) at one year old and a second dose before kindergarten, between ages 4 to 6. Encourage people that spend time around their family to be vaccinated and know their vaccination status – especially if they recently moved from out of state or visited an area where measles is endemic. Prior to international travel, people should be sure they are vaccinated against measles, even infants as young as six months. If you feel that you or your children have symptoms of measles, please inform the hospital or clinic before you arrive, so that you can be properly isolated and assessed, and wear an N95 mask if possible (otherwise you risk exposing unvaccinated infants or immune compromised people).

Certain people are unable to be vaccinated against measles, including those with an allergy to a vaccine component, women who are pregnant and those with a weakened immune system.

  • Symptoms: maculopapular rash, fever, cough, red eyes, runny nose
  • Incubation period: 7-21 days
  • Contagious period: 4 days before and 4 days after rash develops

  • Every year, over 100,000 people die from measles. Most deaths occur in children under 5. Approximately 1-2 measles cases out of 1,000 will result in death, even with access to medical care.
  • Measles can cause complications like encephalitis and pneumonia.
  • About 20% of people with measles are hospitalized. Recent outbreaks have seen up to 50% of cases hospitalized.

  • Measles vaccines are extremely effective. One dose provides about 93% protection against disease, and the recommended two doses is over 97% effective.
  • MMR vaccine has a proven safety record. The most common side effects reported include a sore arm, fever and mild rash. As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of the MMR vaccine causing a more serious adverse reaction, including severe allergic reactions.