The immediate economic effect of measles is small, but a continued outbreak to a relatively small portion of the American population would drain hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. economy, a health-care expert said on Tuesday.
"There could be a significant impact, for sure," said Ipsita Smolinski, managing director for health-care research and consulting firm Capitol Street on CNBC's "Street Signs."
In January, 102 measles cases were documented in the United States, more than most entire years since 2000. The disease and its vaccination have become highly publicized and politicized since an outbreak last month linked to Disneyland in California.
The current number of cases poses no immediate threat to the American economy, Smolinski said. But with an estimated cost of $11,000 per case, including treatment, research and lost labor, a breakout to even 5 percent of the population is "certainly concerning," she argued.
That cost would amount to roughly $175 billion, according to government estimates of the U.S. population. Even with a small chance of a larger outbreak, prolonged hysteria could lead to people avoiding airlines, retail stores or other public spaces, she added.