Could the Super Bowl Spread a Measles Outbreak?

It’s that time of year, Super Bowl time. While this Sunday will be filled with football and food (mmm guacamole!), there’s a not so festive question on healthcare provider’s minds. Could the Super Bowl spread a measles outbreak? I’m discussing the question live on the Fox News Channel today with Neil Cavuto (don’t miss it). Here’s a preview.

We’ve all heard of the Disneyland measles outbreak. The measles resurgence began with an infected foreign tourist arriving on Mickey’s turf. The virus has now infected more than 95 individuals in six states including Arizona, home to Super Bowl XLIX. Arizona has at least seven confirmed cases of the disease with more than 1,000 people near the site of the Super Bowl recently exposed. Health officials are recommending that unvaccinated individuals stay indoors wearing a mask in public if they must leave the house for 21 days to quell the outbreak.

So, just how big of a threat is the most recent measles resurgence to Super Bowl fans attending the big game? Answering the following measles FAQ’s will help assess the risk.

Who is immune to the measles and who is at risk?

Anyone born before 1957 is considered to have immunity from the measles. While these individuals were born before we began vaccinating for the disease, they have most likely contracted the disease in the past conferring immunity. You can’t get the measles twice. If you or your patients were born in this timeframe and aren’t sure if they are immune, a quick blood test checking for measles antibodies can give the answer.

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Individuals who have been vaccinated with one dose of the MMR vaccine, have a 95 percent chance of developing measles immunity. The first measles vaccine is recommended at 12 to 15 months of age. Individuals receiving a second dose of the measles vaccine have a 99 percent likelihood of developing immunity to the virus. The second MMR vaccine is recommended between 4 and 6 years of age. The remaining 1 percent of individuals are considered “non responders” and do not develop immunity to the measles virus.

How is measles spread? 

Measles is a respiratory virus, spread easily by coughing and sneezing. It survives in the air or on surfaces for up to 2 hours. So, any football fans touching an infected surface could be putting themselves at risk. The likelihood of spreading disease increases when large numbers of people are confined in close quarters. The unvaccinated and under-vaccinated are at highest risk. 

How contagious is the measles?

Measles is highly contagious. The virus is so contagious that 90 percent of those who are exposed but not immune to measles get the disease. Individuals infected with measles are contagious for about four days before the characteristic measles rash appears often infecting others before they realize they are sick. 

What’s the big deal? How dangerous is the measles virus?

About one in three people with measles develop complications. The most common of these are pneumonia and diarrhea but more serious complications an occur. Encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, can accompany measles leading to permanent disability or death. About one or two people out of every 1,000 with the measles die as a result of encephalitis.

How will Super Bowl fans know if they have the measles?

Measles begins with cold and flu-like symptoms including a cough and mild head congestion. This is followed in three to five days by a rash and high fever. The measles rash is a splotchy, red rash covering the body from head to toe. Conjunctivitis, or reddening of the eyes, is also common. Measles patients may also notice small red spots called Koplik spots on the inside of their mouth. 

How can Super Bowl fans protect themselves from the measles?

Getting vaccinated is by far the best way to protect yourself from the measles. The vaccine carries far, far less risk than getting the disease and confers a high level of immunity. Proper hand washing and keeping hands away from the nose and mouth are important for preventing the spread of any communicable disease, including the measles.

Anyone concerned they may have come in contact with the measles is encouraged to call their healthcare provider for medical advice rather than going directly to the hospital or clinic to prevent the continued spread of the disease. 


So just how likely is a Super Bowl spread of the measles outbreak? It’s certainly possible the event could spread the outbreak, but we won’t see anything along the lines of a measles epidemic. Despite the growth of the anti-vaccine movement, most people are immune to or have been vaccinated against the measles (Arizona’s immunization rate is 69 percent).

If you consider that one percent of individuals who have been vaccinated against the disease that may not gain immunity, in a stadium containing 73,000 people assuming all are vaccinated, this means there are 730 “non-responders”. These people would be at risk. The likelihood of these non-responders coming in contact with an infected individual is very low, but, of course possible.

Don’t miss my discussion of the Super Bowl measles threat live today with Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel. Go Seahawks!


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