Is measles serious?
For most people who get measles, the illness is not serious and gets better on its own. It starts with fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. After a few days a rash develops and lasts about a week. However for some people who get measles, the disease can be more serious.
What happens when the disease is more serious?
Measles can infect other parts of the body. About 8 per 100 people with measles get diarrhea (8%), 7 per 100 get a middle ear infection (mainly young children), and 6 per 100 get pneumonia (lung infection with breathing trouble).
About 1 in 1,000 people with measles get encephalitis, a serious brain infection. Measles illness during pregnancy can cause early labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight infants. Measles in people with AIDS or weak immune systems can be very severe. In the U.S. people can still die from measles (about 2 per 1,000, usually related to pneumonia or encephalitis).
Is there treatment for measles?
There is no medicine that kills the measles virus once someone develops measles. Most people with measles get better by themselves. They should rest, drink plenty of fluids, and can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help reduce the fever and feel more comfortable. People who are severely ill or who develop pneumonia, middle ear infection, or diarrhea should discuss treatment with their doctor. Although no medicine will make the measles virus go away, there may be a role for other medicines, such as antibiotics, in treating other possible reasons for infection.
How is measles spread or passed to others?
Measles is a very contagious viral disease that is spread through the air from person to person. Measles can be transmitted when someone with measles coughs or sneezes, and other people breathing the air containing the measles virus can then get measles. The measles virus can also float in the air for up to one hour after someone with measles has coughed or sneezed. People with measles can spread the disease to others from 4 days before the rash starts (before they know they have the disease), through 4 days after the rash begins.
Is it true that some people can’t get measles?
Yes. Some people are immune to measles, meaning that their body has already learned how to fight off the virus, and they won’t become sick from it. People can become immune to measles in two ways. Natural immunity: those who got sick with measles earlier in life will be immune afterward, and they won’t get it again. Vaccine-based immunity: 97/100 people who have been vaccinated with 2 doses of measles vaccine have long-term immunity to measles.
What does it mean to be “exposed” to measles?
“Exposed” means you’ve been in a situation where you can catch the virus from someone who already has measles. For example, you can be exposed to the measles virus by being in the same room, home,office, or waiting room with someone who has measles or by being there up to one hour after the person with measles has left.
If someone has been exposed to measles, how does public health determine if they are immune?
A blood test is the most reliable method. The measles IgG test shows whether the body has antibodies to fight off the virus. If enough measles antibodies are present, then the person is said to have evidence of immunity to measles.
Vaccination records are also reliable. People who have written documentation that they had at least 2 doses of a measles-containing vaccine (with both doses given in 1968 or later, after their first birthday, and at least 1 month apart) are considered to have vaccine-based immunity to measles.
There are also presumptive criteria for immunity, meaning that people in these categories are probably (but not definitely) immune to measles:
- Born before 1957, OR
- Written documentation of at least 1 dose of a measles-containing vaccine, given in 1968 or later AND after their first birthday;
- Medical test records confirming they had measles in the past; OR
- Served in the U.S. armed forces; OR
- Born in the U.S. in 1970 or later and attended a U.S. elementary school (and were not known to have refused vaccinations); OR
- Entered the U.S. in 1996 or later with an immigrant visa, or have a green card (and were not known to have refused vaccinations).
How well does the measles vaccine work?
The measles vaccine works extremely well. Getting a second dose really helps to increase the chance of protection.
- 97% of those who have had 2 doses of measles vaccine (in 1968 or later, after their first birthday, and at least 1 month apart) will not get measles even after being exposed to measles.
- 93% of those who have had 1 dose of measles vaccine (in 1968 or later, after their first birthday) will not get measles even after being exposed to measles.
What is the vaccination schedule for measles?
The CDC’s vaccine website has all the schedules in easy-to-read format.
Children are routinely recommended to get the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) at age 12-15 months with a 2nd dose at age 4-6 years. It is not necessary to wait until the 4th birthday, however — the 2nd dose can be given as soon as 28 days after the 1st.
Adults born before 1957 are nearly always immune, having been exposed to measles during childhood. Those born 1957 or later should make sure they have had at least 1 dose of MMR vaccine given at age 1 year or older.
The following groups are recommended to have had 2 doses of MMR vaccine at age 1 year or older, with the 2 doses given at least 28 days apart:
- College or university students
- People who will be traveling internationally
- Health care workers who don’t have blood test evidence of immunity to measles
What about measles and international travel?
The risk of catching measles is much higher when traveling internationally, due to all the large outbreaks of measles currently going on in many other countries.
Before going on an international trip, all travelers age 12 months and older should ensure they have had 2 doses of MMR vaccine, given at least 28 days apart. Infants age 6-11 months, who are too young to have started their regular MMR shots, should get 1 early dose of MMR, and then receive their regular 2 doses (for a total of 3 doses) after their 1st birthday.
Unfortunately the youngest infants can be vulnerable to measles because there is no measles vaccine for those less than 6 months of age. Antibodies from the mother can be passed to the baby but protection is not guaranteed.
Does the measles vaccine protect against other diseases too?
In the USA, measles vaccine is almost always given as a combination with vaccine against 2 other viruses: mumps and rubella. This combination vaccine is called MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and it gives protection against all 3 viruses. Find a vaccine provider in San Francisco.
Can pets get infected with measles or spread measles?
No, pets do not get infected with or spread the measles virus.
Additional Information – Vaccination
- Where to Get Immunized in San Francisco
- Vaccine Information for Different Age Groups, Populations, and Activities
Additional Information – Measles
For the Public:
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Measles Webpage
- California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Measles Webpage
- CDPH Poster: “Measles Travel Advisory Flyer” [English] [Spanish]
- CDPH Poster: “Measles Patient Illness Alert Flyer” [English] [Spanish]
- Press Releases from the San Francisco Department of Public Health