Is measles serious?
For most people who get measles, the illness is not serious. It starts with fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. After a few days a rash develops and lasts about a week. Then, it gets better by itself. 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?
The way to tell for sure that a person is protected (immune) is by a blood test. The blood test (called measles IgG) shows whether the body has antibodies to fight off the virus. If enough measles antibodies are present, then the person is said to have laboratory evidence of immunity to measles.
The next best way is to check vaccination records. People who have written documentation that they had at least 2 doses of a measles-containing vaccine — AND both doses were given in 1968 or later, AND after their first birthday AND at least 1 month apart — are nearly certain 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.
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 – 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]
For Health Care Providers:
- Measles Quick Guide for Clinicians
- Measles Health Alerts for Clinicians
- CDPH Measles Clinical Guidance: Identification, Testing and Isolation of Suspect Measles Cases
- For Clinicians: Viral Transport Media Image
- CDC Measles Outbreak Information page