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What is Measles?
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that lives in the mucus of the nose and throat. It spreads easily through coughing and sneezing and can live for up to two hours outside of the body.

If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch an infected surface, then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, they can become infected.

Measles are so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person, who are not immune, will also become infected.

In rare cases, it can be deadly. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against measles.

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Measles Information

What are the symptoms of Measles?
Measles symptoms appear 7-14 days after contact with the virus and can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children.

  • Measles typically starts with a fever, which may spike to 104 or higher.
  • Soon after, it causes a cough, runny nose, and red eyes.
  • 2-3 days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik Spots) may appear inside the mouth
  • 3-5 days after symptoms begin, a rash of flat red spots will appear on the face at the hairline and spread down to the rest of the body.
    • Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots.
    • The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body.
    • When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.
  • The rash can last for a week, and coughing can last for 10 days.

How serious is measles?
Measles can be serious, especially for babies and young children under age 5. It can also cause complications for adults older than the age of 20, individuals who have a weak immune system, and for pregnant women.

Mild or common complications from measles include ear infections and diarrhea.

More severe complications include, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). As many as 1 out of every 20 children who gets measles will develop pneumonia, this is what causes most measles related deaths. About 1 out of 1,000 children who become infected with measles will develop encephalitis which can cause convulsions leaving the child with lifelong brain damage, learning disability, and/or deafness. Even with the best care, nearly 1 to 3 out of 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from the respiratory and neurological complications of the disease,

Pregnant women who contract measles, and have not been vaccinated, may also give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.

How does measles spread?
Measles spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. It is very contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even after that person is gone. You can catch measles from an infected person up to 4 days before they develop the measles rash.

What is the MMR vaccine?
The MMR vaccine is a shot that combines vaccines for three diseases—measles, mumps, and rubella. The vaccine protects people by preparing their bodies to fight the measles virus. The measles vaccine is very effective and has been in use since the 1960s! Two doses of vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles. One dose of vaccine is about 93% effective.

Why should I or my child get the MMR vaccine?
Getting the MMR vaccine protects you or your child against measles. It also protects other people who can’t get the vaccine. For example, babies under 1 year old are too young to get the vaccine, but they can still get sick with measles. Also, people with cancer or other serious problems with their immune systems cannot be vaccinated. A high level of vaccination in the community helps protect everyone.

When should my child get the MMR vaccine?
Children should get two doses of the MMR vaccine for best protection:

  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months, and
  • The second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.

Children often get MMR vaccine at the same time as other vaccines. This is safe, even for young children.

Adults who do not have presumptive evidence of immunity should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine. Presumptive evidence of immunity would include being born before 1957, having had the measles, or having been vaccinated previously.

Certain adults may need 2 doses. Adults who are going to be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles or mumps transmission should make sure they have had two doses separated by at least 28 days. These adults include

  • students at post-high school education institutions
  • healthcare personnel
  • international travelers

During an outbreak, health officials may recommend the MMR vaccine be given to infants younger than 12 months of age, sometimes even to children as young as 6 months of age.

Measles outbreaks are occurring in every region of the world, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Measles can enter the United States through infected travelers entering or traveling through to the U.S. as well as through infected U.S. travelers returning from other countries.

The risk of measles may be very high for unvaccinated U.S. residents who travel abroad. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended for all international travelers 12 months or older. Infants 6 through 11 months of age should get one dose before traveling.

Is the MMR vaccine safe?
The MMR vaccine is very safe, and it is effective at preventing measles (as well as mumps and rubella). Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Most children who get the MMR vaccine have no side effects. Those that do occur are typically very mild, such as a fever or rash.

If my child does not get the MMR vaccine, will he/she get the measles?
Almost everyone who has not had MMR vaccine will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.

Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Thanks to the MMR vaccine, measles no longer circulates year round in the United States.

Where do measles cases in the United States come from?
Most measles cases come into the United States by U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to other countries and foreign visitors.

Some people in the United States choose not to get themself or their children the MMR vaccine. Declining vaccination rates have left citizens vulnerable to measles outbreaks. These individuals can spread the disease to others in their communities, including to babies who are too young to get the vaccine and others who cannot get vaccinated because of certain health conditions.

Is the MMR vaccine linked with autism?
Some people have had concerns that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might be linked to the vaccines children receive, but studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD. The National Academy of Medicine, formerly known as Institute of Medicine, reviewed the safety of 8 vaccines to children and adults. The review found that with rare exceptions, these vaccines are very safe.

A CDC study published in 2013 added to the research showing that vaccines do not cause ASD. The study focused on the number of vaccine antigens, what causes the body’s immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies, given during the first two years of life. The results showed that the total amount of antigen from vaccines received was the same between children with ASD and those that did not have ASD.



Updated 03-25-2024

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