Measles

Measles, also known as Red Measles, is a highly contagious and serious viral disease. It is the leading worldwide cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in children.

What are the symptoms of Measles?

Measles symptoms start between seven and twelve days after someone is infected, beginning with a fever, cough, runny nose, and red, inflamed eyes. Shortly after, a rash appears on the face and then spreads over the chest, arms, and legs. The rash lasts at least three days.

Complications from Measles can be severe and may require hospitalization. About 10 percent of people who are infected will experience one or more of ear infections, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Measles can also cause blindness and encephalitis (brain swelling), which is the leading cause of Measles-related death. One person in every 3,000 dies from complications of Measles. Children under age five and adults have the highest risk of developing severe complications.

How can I get Measles?

Measles is very contagious and spreads easily through the air. When an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes, the virus spreads through the air. The Measles virus can survive in small droplets in the air for several hours. You can become infected when you breathe in these droplets or touch objects contaminated with the virus. You also increase your risk if you share food, drinks or cigarettes, or kiss someone who has the virus.

People who have Measles are usually contagious from five days before until four days after their rash appears.

Where can I get Measles?

Because of immunization Measles is now rare in Canada and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Most cases occur in people who have not been vaccinated, including overseas visitors to Canada. Measles is a common disease in developing countries, including parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

What vaccines are available for Measles?

Since 1983, children born in Canada have received the Measles vaccine as part of the Measles-Measles-rubella (MMR) immunization. Children get the MMR vaccine in two doses, the first around age one, and the second around age five. Children who will be travelling to Measles-endemic areas can receive their first dose of MMR as early as six months of age.

If you have not been immunized for Measles you should consider vaccination if you are:

  • Planning travel to Measles-endemic areas.
  • A women of childbearing age who is not pregnant.
  • A health care or childcare worker.

If you are pregnant you should not get the vaccine because it contains a weakened version of live rubella virus, which could pose a risk to your unborn child. You should avoid anyone who has Measles and get vaccinated after your child is born.

If you are thinking about becoming pregnant and you don’t know if you’ve been immunized, you can get a blood test from your doctor that checks for antibodies. If you’re not immune, you should get vaccinated at least one month before you conceive.

How many shots will I need?

In British Columbia, it is recommended that people born after 1956 get two doses of the vaccine. This is especially important for travelers and health care workers.

Will I need a booster?

If you have had two doses of the MMR vaccine you will not need a booster.

How can I prevent Measles?

The best way to prevent Measles is to get vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated or have not had Measles, avoid personal contact with anyone who has Measles. Practice normal precautions that prevent the spread of infectious diseases:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often.
  • Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers available for times when it is not convenient to wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Keep shared surfaces clean and disinfected.
  • Don’t share personal items such as utensils or drinks.

What is the treatment for Measles?

If you have been exposed to the Measles virus and you have not had the disease or two doses of a Measles vaccine, you should get the MMR vaccine to prevent the illness. To be protected against the Measles virus, you need to get the vaccine within 72 hours after you have been exposed.

If you have fever and a rash and think you may have Measles, see a health care professional as soon as possible. Call ahead and describe your symptoms so that you can be seen quickly and without infecting other people. Measles can spread easily in places like waiting rooms and emergency rooms.