Is January Usually a Big Measles Month?

This year is just getting started, but we already have reports of 86 92 94 measles cases in 7 states, and we haven’t even reached the end of January.

Is that a lot?

Well, let’s compare to previous years…

Is January Usually a Big Measles Month?

Classically, in the pre-vaccine era and in parts of the world that still have endemic measles, rates of this vaccine-preventable disease are highest:

  • during the late winter and early spring (temperate climates, like the United States)
  • after the rainy season (tropical climates)

In the post-vaccine era, measles season seemed to shift a little later, to the spring and early summer. In 1994, for example, when we had 963 cases of measles in the United States, 79% of those cases occurred between April and July.

January is not typically a big month for measles.
January is not typically a big month for measles.

Similarly, in 2011, we had only seen 15% of the year’s total measles cases by April 1. By August 1, that was up to about 70%.

We do see measles cases year round though, we just seem to see more of them in the spring and early summer months. Since most measles outbreaks in the United States are imported from other parts of the world, you might expect that we would see more cases when folks are traveling more and when there are big outbreaks in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, measles is on the rise in many parts of the world right now.

And that is likely why we have already seen more cases this month than in the entire year of 2000 (86 cases), 2002 (44 cases), 2003 (55 cases), 2004 (37 cases), 2005 (66 cases), 2006 (66 cases), 2007 (55 cases), 2009 (71 cases), 2010 (61 cases), and 2016 (86 cases).

YearJanuary Measles CasesTotal Cases
19915969,643
1992492,200
199317312
19946963
199522309
19962508
20081140
20118220
20137187
201415667
2015108188
20188355
201994?

As you can see from the above table, January is not typically a big month for measles.

But what happened in 2015? There were a lot of measles cases in January, but we ended the year with only a moderate amount of cases.

That January spike was the California outbreak that had begun in December 2014. By February 2015, there were at least 125 cases, but fortunately no other large outbreaks the rest of the year.

Could that happen this year?

Could the ongoing outbreaks in New York and the Pacific Northwest stop and we then end up with only a moderate amount of cases?

Let’s hope so.

Let’s hope that having the second highest number of measles cases in January since 1991 ends up being the only record we set this year.

More on Measles Season

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