Measles is a disease caused by a virus that spreads very easily from person to person. Because of high immunization levels, measles is rare the United States. It is still common in many other countries and may be brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers and can be spread among unvaccinated people. Keeping measles immunization levels high is critical to preventing measles outbreaks.
What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles usually appears in two stages. First, the person develops a fever, runny nose, and cough. After about three days, a raised, red spotty rash develops. The rash starts on the face and spreads downward, covering the body, arms and legs. Symptoms usually appear about eight to 12 days after a person is exposed to measles.
If you or your child has symptoms of measles, what should you do?
Be sure to stay at home and avoid having visitors until you have talked with your doctor. Your doctor will tell you if you should come in for a visit. If you do need to see a doctor, special arrangements will need to be made to keep others from being exposed.
How serious is measles?
Measles can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalizations and even death. Many people with measles have complications like diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, or acute encephalitis (a brain infection that can lead to permanent brain damage). Complications are more common in children under 5 years of age and adults older than 20. Measles can be especially severe in people whose immune systems are weak.
Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight infants.
How does measles spread?
The measles virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can easily catch measles by breathing in these droplets or, if the droplets have settled on a surface, by touching the surface and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth. The measles virus can survive in the air and on surfaces for a few hours. You cannot get measles more than once, because after you have had it you are immune. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is very effective at preventing disease. About 95–98% will get protection after a single dose of vaccine. After two doses of vaccine, 99% will develop protection.
How long is a person with measles contagious?
A person with measles can pass it to others from four days before their rash appears to four days after it appears.
How would a person know if they have measles?
A doctor can diagnose measles by a clinical examination AND lab tests. Measles has become so rare in the United States that many doctors have never seen the disease. Since many viruses can cause a rash, lab tests are essential.
Is there a treatment for measles?
No, there is no specific treatment for measles. People with measles need to rest and drink fluids to keep themselves hydrated. They may also need treatment for complications such as diarrhea, ear infection, or pneumonia.
Is there a vaccine for measles?
Yes. The measles vaccination is usually combined with mumps and rubella (MMR).
- Children should receive two doses of MMR vaccine: the first at 12 to 15 months of age and the second at 4 to 6 years of age. The second dose of MMR may be given as soon as four weeks after the first dose.
- Adults born in or after 1957 should have at least one dose of MMR.
- People born before 1957 are generally considered immune, but may want to consider getting one dose of MMR.
- Certain adults (such as healthcare workers) should receive two doses of measles/MMR vaccine to make sure they are protected.
- Women who plan to have children and are not immune should get MMR at least four weeks before getting pregnant.
Steps to take if you or your child has been exposed to measles
- Call your doctor or nurse right away to see if you need a vaccination.
- If you have not been vaccinated, getting an MMR shot within three days (72 hours) of being exposed may help protect you from getting measles.
- People who cannot be vaccinated can be treated with immune globulin (IG antibodies) up to six days after exposure. IG may not prevent measles, but it may make the disease milder.
What should travelers do?
Because measles is more common in other parts of the world, people who travel to other countries should make sure that they are protected before traveling.
- All travelers 12 months of age and older should have two doses of MMR given at least 28 days apart or a blood test showing immunity.
- Children 6 through 11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR before traveling. These children will still need to get their two routine doses of MMR at 12–15 months and 4–6 years of age.
Where can I get more information?
For more information, talk with your healthcare provider or contact the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department at (253) 798-6410 (press"0" for the operator). Additional information can also be found on line www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html.
Health and Wellness
- (ABCD) Access to Baby and Child Dentistry
- Alcohol and Drug Services
- Diseases and Conditions
- Health Care Reform
- Health Equity
- Hot Weather
- Marijuana Health Effects
- MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
- Oral Health Program- Comprehensive Community Oral Health Plan
- Physical Activity and Nutrition
- Pregnancy and Parenting
- Public Health Week
- School and Student Health
- Tobacco Prevention and Control
- WIC Nutrition Program