Measles is an extremely contagious viral lung disease that causes high fever, rash, and life-threatening complications in children. It is preventable with the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
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Table of Contents for Measles
How do you get measles?
How many people get measles every year?
What are the symptoms of measles?
How soon do symptoms appear?
Can measles cause death?
What are complications of measles?
Is measles contagious?
How is measles treated?
Why do we use MMR instead of MMRV for measles?
How effective is the measles vaccine?
What is the immunization schedule for measles?
What are measles vaccine names?
Measles, also known as rubeola, is a serious respiratory disease in the lungs and breathing tubes. The infection causes a skin rash and a high fever. Measles is caused by a highly-contagious virus and it can be deadly. Fortunately, it is preventable with two doses of the measles vaccine.
People get measles by breathing in the measles virus. The virus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes, or talks. You can get measles just by being in the same room as someone with measles, and up to 2 hours after that person leaves the room.
The number of measles cases in the United States ranged from 37 to 220 people between 2001 and 2013. Some years are worse than others. In 2014, 667 people in 27 states got measles. In 2015, over 170 people in the U.S. got measles, mostly as part of a large outbreak linked to Disneyland amusement parks in California.
Measles outbreaks are becoming more common in the U.S., but no one knows why. Nearly 90% of measles outbreaks in the U.S. are caused by international travelers who bring the disease home when they return from countries where measles is common. It is very rare for “homegrown” measles outbreaks to occur in the U.S.
- High fever (over 105ºF)
- Runny nose
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Rash of tiny, red spots that starts on the head and spreads to the body
- Ear infection
Symptoms of measles may not appear until 5-7 days after exposure to the virus. However, non-immune people who are infected with measles are contagious 4 days before the first symptoms appear.
Yes. In the United States, 1-3 children out of 1,000 children with measles will die, even with the best treatment.
Measles is especially serious for babies and young children. From 2001 to 2013, 28% of children under 5 years old who got measles had to be hospitalized. The most serious complications of measles include:
- Pneumonia (lung infection)
- Permanent brain damage
- Neurological complications
- Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE)
- Behavioral and intellectual deterioration
Yes. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known. It spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. People with measles are contagious before the symptoms start. Over 90% of people who are not immune will get measles if they are exposed to it.
There is no cure for measles. The virus and symptoms usually go away within 2 to 3 weeks. Treatment may include acetaminophen to relieve fever and muscle aches, bed rest, fluids, and Vitamin A.
The best way to protect against measles is to get a vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (called the MMR vaccine). Doctors recommend that all children get the MMR shot.
MMRV combines vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox) into one shot. Using MMRV instead of MMR results in one less injection, but the tradeoff is a higher risk of side effects. MMRV doubles the risk of fever-induced seizures when it is given to children between 12-23 months old. The risk is approximately 1 in 1,250 children who get MMRV vs. 1 in 2,500 children who get a separate MMR and Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine.
One dose of the MMR vaccine is approximately 93% effective at preventing measles. Two doses are approximately 97% effective.
Doctors recommend that children get 2 doses of the MMR shot for the best protection against measles. The child will need one dose at each of the following ages:
- 12 through 15 months old
- 4 through 6 years old
Infants between the ages of 6 months and 11 months old should get one dose of MMR shot before traveling abroad.
People who were born during or after 1957 who are not immune against measles should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, but preferably two doses of MMR given at least 4 weeks apart.
- Attenuvax® Measles Virus Vaccine Live
- M-M-R II® Vaccine (MMR) — Minimum age 12 months
- M-R-Vax II® (Measles and Rubella Virus Vaccine Live)
- ProQuad® Vaccine (MMRV) — Age range 12 months to 12 years
Yes. The MMR shot is very safe and effective at preventing measles, mumps, and rubella. The vaccine can have side effects, but most children have no side effects. Large studies in the U.S. and Europe have found no evidence of a link between autism and MMR.
To learn more about the side effects associated with the measles vaccines, please visit this page: Measles Vaccine Side Effects.
- Fever (1 in 6 people)
- Mild rash (1 in 20 people)
- Swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck (1 in 75 people)
Serious side effects of the measles vaccine are rare, but they may include:
- Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA)
- High fever that could cause a seizure (1 out of 3,000 people)
- Temporary pain and stiffness in joints, mostly teenagers or adults (1 in 4 people)
- Temporary low blood platelet count, which can cause bruising (1 out of 30,000 people)
- Severe allergic reaction (less than 1 in a million children)
Other severe problems have been reported in children who received the MMR vaccine, such as deafness, long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness, or permanent brain damage. These side effects are so rare that it is unknown if they are caused by the vaccine.
Call 9-1-1 or get emergency medical attention if you or your child has any unusual condition after a vaccine, such as a high fever, unusual behavior, or allergic reaction (difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness).