Learn more about the disease, the current outbreak dominating many headlines and what you need to know to be safe.

Measles 101 with Sentara infectious disease expert

Image Bogdan Neughebauer Enterovirus Image Bogdan Neughebauer Enterovirus Image Bogdan Neughebauer Enterovirus

Measles was once a fairly common disease, but vaccinations were introduced in 1967 and the disease was largely eradicated in the U.S. by 2000. Before that time, there were roughly three to four million people infected with measles each year. Of that, about 50,000 were hospitalized, 5,000 developed neurological problems and the United States had about 500 deaths per year.

While still small in comparison, cases of measles jumped from an average of about 100 per year to about 644 cases reported in 2014 and an additional 64 cases reported in January of 2015. This spike has largely been traced to an outbreak in California that is believed to have originated at Disneyland.

Dr. Bogdan Neughebauer, infectious disease specialist with Sentara Medical Group, maintains that this current outbreak is hard to extrapolate to the entire country, but it does indicate a much greater spread than any seen in recent history.

Neughebauer joins many in the medical community in stressing the importance of vaccination for measles. He points to objective data that indicate the measles vaccine is safe, citing no documented deaths or permanent damage from anyone taking the vaccine. The highly contagious disease typically presents with symptoms of cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. A rash will form at the hairline and then spread to the face, arms and legs- often accompanied by high fever, according to Neughebauer. It is typically spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. There is no antibiotic therapy for measles, so treatment is often focused on relieving the symptoms of fever or pain in patients.

While it is not a common disease and there is no cause for widespread alarm, Neughebauer says that if you hear of measles in your community then you need to be vigilant. He said your best protection is to get vaccinated, but if you have been exposed and experience symptoms, see your provider right away.