Measles Disease

What is measles disease?

  • Measles is a serious viral respiratory illness that lives in the nose and throat mucus of infected people.
  • A single case of measles will infect up to 95% of unvaccinated people who are exposed. One case is also expected to result in 12-18 additional cases.
  • Up to 20-30% of infected people have complications from the disease, especially children less than 5 years of age or adults over 20 years of age.

What are the symptoms?

  • Symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after a person is infected
  • Common early symptoms include:
    -- High fever, up to 105°F
    -- Cough
    -- Runny nose
    -- Red or watery eyes
  • Two to three days after symptoms begin, you may have:
    -- Tiny white spots appear inside of the mouth.
  • Three to five days after symptoms begin, you could also have:
    -- A rash of flat red spots appear on the face and spread to the neck, chest, arms, legs, and feet.
    -- Small raised bumps may appear on the flat red spots.
  • Common complications may include ear infections, hearing loss, and diarrhea.
  • Severe complications may include pneumonia, swelling of the brain, and death.

How does measles disease spread?

  • Measles is very contagious and may live up to 2 hours in the air or on surfaces after an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • People can spread measles to others four days before and four days after the rash appears.
  • Measles is spread from person-to-person through
    -- Coughing and sneezing
    -- Touching items and surfaces the infected person has coughed or sneezed on.
  • The best prevention against measles is receiving the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Who should get the measles vaccine?

  • The first dose of the MMR vaccine is recommended for children at 12 through 15 months and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Two doses are over 97% effective in preventing measles.
  • If a person has not been vaccinated and is exposed to a case of measles, one dose of MMR within 72 hours of exposure reduces the chance of getting measles.
  • Infants and children, students at post-high school institutions, and healthcare staff should get 2 doses of MMR.
  • Adults born after 1956 should get at least one dose of MMR.
  • Women of childbearing age should get at least one dose of MMR before getting pregnant if they do not have records of complete vaccination.
  • International travelers should be up-to-date for MMR before traveling.

Who should not get MMR vaccine?

  • Anyone who has had a life-threatening reaction to neomycin, any component of MMR vaccine, or to a previous dose.
  • Anyone who has a weakened immune system such as those with cancer or on steroids for a long time.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Anyone with moderate to severe acute illness with or without fever. For more information on contraindications and precautions for MMR vaccine, please go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/mmr/hcp/recommendations.html.

What are the side effects and risks?

  • Getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles disease. MMR does not cause autism.
  • Organizations like Autism Speaks, www.autismspeaks.org, urge parents/guardians to vaccinate all children.
  • While rare, a vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing side effects or allergic reactions.
  • The most common side effects are mild and usually occur within two weeks of the vaccine. These include but are not limited to:
    -- Soreness or redness or rash where the shot was given, fever, and swelling of glands in
    the neck or cheek.
  • Moderate to severe problems include but are not limited to:
    -- Seizures caused by fever, temporary pain or stiffness in the joints, temporary low platelet count, severe allergic reaction, and deafness.
  • The risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.

Where can I find more information about mumps disease or mumps vaccine?

  • Contact your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Go to the Alabama Department of Public Health, Immunization Division, at www.alabamapublichealth.gov/imm.
  • Go to www.cdc.gov and type in ‘measles vaccine’ in the SEARCH box.

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Page last updated: November 26, 2019