Updated: February 1, 2019
What is measles?
Measles is caused by a virus and spreads very easily when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. It spreads so easily that someone who is not protected (either by being immunized or having had measles in the past) can get it if they walk into a room where someone with the disease has been in the past couple of hours.
How serious is measles?
Measles is a very serious disease. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. One or two out of 1,000 die from measles complications. Measles can also cause pregnant woman to miscarry or give birth prematurely. Complications from measles are very common among children younger than five and adults older than 20.
Measles spreads so easily that anyone who is exposed to it and is not immune (for example, someone who has not been vaccinated) will probably get the disease.
What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles causes fever, runny nose, cough, and a rash all over the body. People can spread measles before they show symptoms.
How soon do symptoms appear?
- 7 to 21 days after exposure: mild to moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and sore throat.
- 2 to 4 days after symptoms begin: tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth.
- 3 to 5 days after symptoms begin: a red or reddish-brown raised rash that feels like sandpaper appears, usually beginning on the face. The rash rapidly spreads down the neck, upper arms, and chest. Later, it spreads over the back, abdomen, the rest of the arms, thighs, legs, and feet. When the rash appears, a person's fever may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Symptoms usually last seven to 10 days.
What does measles look like?
Many people have never seen what measles looks like because vaccination has made cases fairly rare in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers photos that show what measles looks like.
How is measles treated?
There is no specific treatment for measles. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine may prevent illness if given to unvaccinated kids over 12 months or adults within the first three days after being exposed to measles.
How is measles prevented?
Getting vaccinated is the best protection against measles. When more than 95 percent of people are vaccinated against measles, the disease slows down and doesn't spread.
Is Vitamin A used to prevent or treat measles?
Children who are deficient in vitamin A are at higher risk for severe complications from measles if they get the disease. Vitamin A is used in some developing countries to treat children who are already sick with measles, who are at risk for serious complications from it, and who have a diagnosed vitamin A deficiency. It is only used to prevent severe complications, including death. It cannot prevent or cure the measles and it is not prescribed for every child. For children in developed countries, including the United States, taking more vitamin A will not have any effect on their measles disease as they already get sufficient amounts of the vitamin. In no case does vitamin A prevent a person from getting sick with measles. The only way to avoid getting measles is to be vaccinated against it. Sources: World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics
Isn't measles rare in the United States?
Before the measles vaccine was introduced, measles caused about 400 deaths in the U.S. each year. Most people in the U.S. are now vaccinated against measles or have natural immunity, but outbreaks do happen. Most commonly, measles is brought into the U.S. by someone who has traveled outside the country. When unvaccinated people are exposed, measles spreads very quickly.
In a typical year, there are about 60 cases in the U.S., but there were 189 in 2013. While Washington typically has five or fewer cases a year, there were 32 cases reported in 2014.
Who is at risk from measles?
People at risk are those who haven't been immunized and those who haven't had measles in the past. Babies younger than 12 months are at risk because most are too young to have been vaccinated yet. Pregnant women, young kids, and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for complications from measles.
What if someone in my family may have measles or was exposed to someone with measles?
Call your doctor, nurse, or clinic right away. Before you go to the doctor's office, call to tell them that you or your family member might have measles. This will allow them to take steps to avoid exposing other people. Try to stay away from other people until at least four days after the rash starts or a test proves it's not measles.
Where can I get more information about measles?
What is the measles vaccine?
The most common vaccine for measles is MMR, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine protects against all strains of measles
Who needs the measles vaccine (MMR)?
Kids need two doses of MMR – the first dose at age 12-15 months and the second at four to six years of age.
Young kids who travel abroad and who are at risk need extra measles vaccine:
- Infants six to 11 months old need one dose of MMR before travel. In addition, they still need to get both regular measles vaccine doses – the first at 12-15 months old and the second at 4-6 years old.
- Kids 12 months or older need two doses of MMR (separated by at least 28 days) before travel.
Adults born in 1957 or later should get one dose of the vaccine if they haven't had measles or didn't get the vaccine in 1968 or later. If you're unsure, you can have a blood test done that will let you know if you have immunity.
Most adults born before 1957 have had measles and are immune – so they don't need the vaccine.
Can I get a single measles vaccine instead of a Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine?
No, there is no single measles vaccine licensed or available for use in the United States.
Is the measles vaccine safe?
Research has shown that the measles vaccine (MMR) is safe. Getting vaccinated is much safer than getting any of the three diseases the vaccine protects against.
You can get more information on the safety of the MMR vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Is it safe to get multiple recommended vaccines at the same appointment?
Scientific data show that getting multiple recommended vaccines at the same appointment is safe and effective in preventing vaccine-preventable illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend getting all routine childhood vaccines on time. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about vaccines you or your child may need to be fully protected.
How are vaccines monitored for safety?
Vaccines are tested before they're licensed for use. Once a vaccine is in use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration always monitor the vaccine to make sure it's safe and effective.
Are there side effects from the vaccine?
Like any medication, the measles vaccine (MMR) may cause side effects. Most are mild:
- Pain at the injection site.
- Mild rash.
- Swollen glands in the cheek or neck.
Where can I get the measles vaccine?
- Call your doctor, nurse, or clinic.
- Visit your local pharmacy.
- Contact your local health department.
If you need help finding a health care provider or if you don't have health insurance, call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit ParentHelp123 website.
Are there vaccination clinics?
There may be vaccination clinics in your community. Contact your local health agency.
How can I pay for the vaccine if I'm uninsured?
There may be programs that can help you. Call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit parenthelp123 website for more information. You can also contact your local health agency to find out if free vaccination clinics are planned in your community.
Should pregnant women get the measles vaccine (MMR)?
Pregnant women should not get the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women who need the vaccine should wait until after giving birth. Women should avoid getting pregnant for four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine.
How soon can a new baby get vaccinated against measles?
The recommendation for babies is to get the first of two doses of MMR at 12-15 months of age. The second dose, usually given at 4-6 years, will provide full protection for your child.
If you plan to travel out of the country with a baby who is between six and 11 months old, your baby should get a dose of MMR before traveling. He or she will also still need the two regular doses at 12-15 months and 4-6 years.
Should new parents and caregivers get vaccinated?
If parents or caregivers haven't gotten the MMR vaccine or had measles in the past, they should get vaccinated. It's important to make sure people who are around your new baby do not expose your baby to measles – and other diseases like whooping cough – that your baby is too young to be vaccinated against. This includes siblings, who should also be up-to-date on all their childhood vaccines for their own protection and to protect the baby.
Do I need to get the measles vaccine (MMR) if I'm traveling outside the country?
If you are not immune to measles – either from being immunized or having had measles in the past – you are at risk for getting measles. Even though measles is pretty rare in the United States, it's still a very common disease in many other countries.
Anyone who has not been vaccinated or had measles in the past should get vaccinated before any travel outside the United States:
- Infants aged six through 11 months should get one dose of measles vaccine (they will still need two additional doses, per the recommended schedule – one at 12-15 months and another at 4-6 years).
- Children 12 months of age or older should get two doses separated by at least 28 days.
- Adolescents and adults should get two doses separated by at least 28 days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information on measles and international travel.
Is the measles vaccine (MMR) recommended for health care workers?
Health care workers and providers in medical facilities should be immune to measles, mumps, and rubella. Those workers who were born in 1957 or later can be considered immune only if they have documentation of:
- Lab confirmation of disease or immunity, or
- Two doses of live measles and mumps vaccines given on after the first birthday and separated by 28 days or more and at least one dose of live rubella vaccine
Do I need to report measles cases?
In Washington State, measles is a notifiable condition. This means all health care providers and facilities must immediately report all confirmed and probable measles cases to their local health jurisdiction.
I'm a visiting nurse and was born in 1963. I have two documented doses of measles-containing vaccine. Should I have a blood test to check for measles immunity?
Healthcare workers who have two documented doses of MMR vaccine, have been given 2 doses of MMR vaccine in or after 1968 or have evidence of measles immunity do not need a blood test for measles. Testing for immunity after MMR vaccination is not routinely recommended.
Where can I get more information about measles?
- Photos of Measles and People with Measles (CDC).
- Measles References and Resources (CDC) – includes textbooks and guidelines, publications, and CDC health advisories.
- Measles Statistics and Surveillance (CDC).
- Measles Multimedia (CDC) – includes videos and podcasts about measles vaccination and outbreaks.
There's a measles outbreak in my community. How can I protect myself and family?
MMR vaccine is the best protection against measles. Review your own and your family's vaccine records for MMR and make sure all other immunizations are up to date. If there's a measles outbreak in your community, talk to your health care provider for further information and recommendations.
What should I do as an adult during a measles outbreak?
Unless an adult has evidence of immunity (meaning they were born before 1957, have lab evidence of immunity to measles, or documentation of measles vaccination) he or she should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine unless the person is in a high-risk group. If an adult is at high risk, he or she should get two doses of MMR vaccine. Adults at high risk include healthcare workers, international travelers, college students, and others. Call your health care provider, or contact your local health department.
I'm pregnant and I plan on breastfeeding after I have my baby. Is it safe to get the MMR vaccine?
Pregnant women should not get the vaccine. You can get MMR vaccine any time after delivery. If you are susceptible to measles, mumps, or rubella, you can get MMR vaccine before hospital discharge, even if you get RhoGam during your hospital stay. Breast feeding does not interfere with the response to MMR vaccine, and your baby will not be affected by the vaccine through your breast milk.
We have an 8 month and we have travel plans to an area where there is known outbreak. We will be leaving next week. Is it safe to travel?
Please talk to your health care provider first. If you are traveling outside the United States, the MMR shot can be given to kids 6 through 11 months of age. If you are traveling to another state or city in the U.S. that has a measles outbreak, check with the state's immunization program website to see if that state is recommending MMR vaccine for babies under age 12 months. Washington state is not currently recommending early MMR vaccine for babies under age 12 months. The MMR given before your child's first birthday does not count as part of the 2-dose series. Instead, repeat the dose when the child is 12 months of age (as long as 28 days have passed since the last dose).
We have a baby under 12 months of age and we would like to get our baby MMR vaccine to protect against the measles outbreak. Can we do this?
Babies under 12 months of age aren't recommended to get MMR vaccine, unless the family is traveling to another country outside of the US or if the baby has been exposed to a person who has measles. If the mom was vaccinated, the baby will likely have protection from the mom for six months or more. There are also some studies that show that MMR vaccine given before 12 months of age may prevent the baby from developing as good of protection when they get the vaccine at 12 months of age. Please talk to your health care provider who can help you with your concerns.
We have a baby under 6 months of age. How do we protect them from measles?
The best protection for young babies is to make sure everyone around them is vaccinated, including family and friends. You should keep the baby away from unvaccinated people and away from areas that may have been exposed to the measles virus. If the mother was vaccinated and is breastfeeding, the baby likely is protected for 6 months or more. Please call the clinic as soon as possible if you think your baby has been exposed to measles.
We are grandparents and traveling to an outbreak area to babysit our grandchildren. We can't remember having the measles or the shot and we can't find our records. What should we do?
Without a written record, it's hard to know what type of vaccine you may have received. If you were born before 1957 you are considered immune. Acceptable evidence of measles immunity includes a positive titer for antibody, birth before 1957, or written documentation of vaccination. A personal history of measles is not acceptable as proof of immunity. If your titer is not positive, you can have 1 dose of MMR.
My Doctor does not have MMR vaccine. Where can I get it?
Contact your local health agency for resources in your community.
I'm looking for the Measles only vaccine. I've called a couple clinics and they don't have it. Where can I find this?
The manufacturer no longer produces single antigen measles, mumps, and/or rubella vaccines for the U.S. market. Only combined MMR is available.