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Measles

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Vaccination is your best protection.

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Measles is a viral disease that spreads easily from person to person. Because of vaccines, measles is rare in the United States. It is still common in many other countries. Travelers without immunization may bring measles to the United States, where they expose others. High immunization levels are critical to prevent measles from spreading.

What are the symptoms?

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 exposure.

View Measles: What You Should Know. Also available in:

View Measles Outbreak Information for Parents.

What should I do?

If you or your child has symptoms of measles, be sure to stay at home and avoid having visitors until you have talked with your doctor. Make special arrangements with your doctor before your office visit.

How serious is measles?

Measles is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalizations and even death. Measles can cause serious problems like diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and permanent brain damage. Complications are more common in children under age 5 and adults older than age 20. Measles can be especially severe in people with weak immune systems.

In pregnancy, measles increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage and low-birth weight babies.

How does it spread?

Measles is very contagious. It spreads through tiny droplets from the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You catch measles when you breathe in these droplets or touch contaminated surfaces then put your hands near your face.

The measles virus can survive in the air and on surfaces for several hours. You can't get measles more than once.

Is there a measles vaccine?

Yes. It usually comes bundled in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. MMR is very effective against measles. About 95% of people get protection after a single dose. Two doses protect 99% of people.

Children should get two doses of MMR: the first at 12 to 15 months and the second at 4 to 6 years old. Children can get the second dose of MMR as soon as four weeks after the first dose. Children need the second dose before school.

  • Adults born after 1956 should have at least one dose of MMR.
  • People born before 1957 are often immune, but should consider getting one dose of MMR.
  • Adults, like healthcare workers, should get two doses of the MMR to ensure protection.
  • Women who plan to have children should get the MMR at least four weeks before pregnancy.

My child isn't old enough for the vaccine. What should I do?

Children who can't get the vaccine because they haven't turned 1 year old need to have a ring of protection around them. That means everybody they come in contact with should be vaccinated: family, daycare workers, friends, community.

We do NOT have confirmed cases of measles in Pierce County right now. If you are worried about your child, you might feel better if you avoid contact with the public. You can call your child's pediatrician if you have concerns or questions. 

Babies age 6 to 12 months should receive MMR vaccine if they are traveling to areas of the world where there are epidemics of measles. The number of cases in our area is very concerning, but at this time the Health Department is not recommending that babies under 12 months get a vaccine for local travel. 

What should I do if my child is in preschool or daycare?

Children in daycare who are 12 months to 4 to 6 years old need one MMR vaccine. It is safe for them to attend if they have received it. 

How long is a person contagious?

A person can pass measles to others four days before their rash appears until four days after it appears.

How is measles diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose measles with a physical exam and lab tests. Measles is 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.

How is measles treated?

No specific treatment for measles exists. People with measles need to rest and drink fluids to keep hydrated. Some people may also need treatment for diarrhea, ear infections or pneumonia.

What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to measles?

  • Call your doctor or nurse right away to see if you need a vaccination.
  • For unvaccinated people, MMR offers protection within three days of exposure to measles.
  • People who can't get the vaccine can receive antibody treatment up to six days after exposure. This may not prevent measles, but it can make the disease milder.

What should travelers do?

  • Measles is more common in other parts of the world. Travelers should make sure they get the vaccine before leaving the United States.
  • Children 1 year or older should get two doses of MMR at least 28 days apart or a blood test showing immunity.
  • Children 6 to 11 months old should get one dose of MMR before traveling. These children will still need two doses of MMR at 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years.

Where can I get more information?

Talk with your healthcare provider or call us at (253) 798-6410.

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