Travel health tips during the measles epidemic

In the midst of the measles epidemic, it’s easy to assume only your own country is affected. After all, the media tends to focus on what’s closest to us.

If you look a little closer at global data, you’ll see that measles is rampant worldwide. Globally, cases have risen by 300% in the first three months of 2019. In Africa, there’s been a 700% increase.

Remaining vigilant at home and abroad will prevent you from succumbing to the measles epidemic. If you want to increase your chances of protecting yourself and your family, read on.

How bad is the measles epidemic worldwide?

According to the CDC, most cases of measles in the United States arise following international travel. Around two out of three travelers who bring the disease back home are unvaccinated. Those people then spread the disease elsewhere, resulting in a measles epidemic.

The CDC’s website periodically highlights when there’s a Level 1 measles alert. For example, at the time of publishing both Israel and Brazil are on Level 1 alert. When you look at a global map of the measles epidemic, it’s easy to identify a pattern. Cases are higher in countries where access to healthcare is limited. Despite being desperate to use vaccines, many individuals cannot.

It’s important to note that the World Health Organization believes their figures are an underestimation. The WHO can only provide accurate reports on confirmed cases. At present, experts believe that only 1 in 10 confirmed cases are reported. As such, the figures we stated earlier may be a gross underestimation.

How can you protect yourself against measles when traveling?

Unless you’re certain you’ve received both MMR vaccines, always visit your family physician for advice. If they can’t access your vaccine record, they can test you for immunity against measles. In the event that you don’t have immunity, they may recommend an MMR booster vaccine.

Unlike conditions such as cholera and malaria, avoidance techniques aren’t easy to implement. Although measles comes with a tell-tale rash, you can spread the virus in the first four days before it arises. As such, you may come into contact with an infected person without realising it. This means your best chance of not falling victim to the measles epidemic is to vaccinate yourself against the disease.

Of course, your other option is to try traveling to countries where the epidemic isn’t as bad. This is easier said than done, though. For example, the Ukraine is currently a Level 1 country and there’s little to prevent measles from spreading across borders and into other Eastern European countries.

What are the signs of measles?

If you’ve recently traveled to a country with a known measles epidemic, you need to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms. They include:

  • A fever of 104 degrees or above
  • A dry cough and sore throat
  • A runny nose
  • A flat and blotchy rash
  • Conjunctivitis

If you suspect that you or your child have measles, always contact your doctor. As the disease can (rarely) lead to meningitis and encephalitis, you should remain vigilant in looking out for severe symptoms. Always touch base with a physician if you feel your condition is worsening.

Otherwise, treating measles means resting, staying hydrated, and avoiding public places. And, don’t forget to vaccinate before traveling.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.