Background: In February 2004, students from a college in Iowa, with a high proportion of nonmedical exemptions to vaccination, traveled to India; one fourth of the students contracted measles while there. One exposed, susceptible student returned home during his infectious period, necessitating 2 months of containment efforts in Iowa.
Objective: The objective of this study was to measure the direct costs of measles containment from a public health system perspective.
Methods: We evaluated activities performed, personnel time/materials allocated, and direct costs incurred in 2004 US dollars by the Iowa public health infrastructure. The study period was defined as March 5, 2004 (when the Iowa Department of Public Health was first contacted about the case), through May 12, 2004 (when a final meeting was held on the containment effort).
Results: A total of 2525 hours of personnel time were expended to review flight manifests, contact exposed passengers, set up vaccination clinics, trace >1000 potentially exposed contacts, and institute and enforce quarantine orders for vaccination refusers. Two thousand twenty-five phone calls were received from the public, and 2243 miles were driven by staff. The temporal distribution of personnel time was characterized by marked peaks at the report of potential secondary cases. The total estimated cost was 142452 dollars.
Conclusions: The direct cost to the public health infrastructure of containing 1 case of measles was far greater than the estimated cost of uncomplicated individual illness (less than 100 dollars). Economic analyses of vaccine-preventable diseases may need to go beyond the costs of individual illness to account for the costs of protecting society.