Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. It is caused by the measles virus.
The virus is spread by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of an infected person. Less commonly, it can be spread by droplets in the air. It is typically spread in winter and spring. Measles is contagious:
Symptoms usually begin within 8-12 days after exposure. The rash lasts about 4-6 days. Full recovery can take 7-10 days. In severe cases (or in people with immune disorders), serious brain infection or pneumonia can happen when recovering. Permanent brain damage and death are very rare in the developed world.
Measles was once a common childhood illness. Now, there are fewer cases of measles in the United States. This is due to the measles vaccine. But, there have been outbreaks in recent years.
You are very unlikely to get measles if you were immunized as a child. However, unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated people are at increased risk if they:
Measles is caused by a virus. It cannot be treated with antibiotics. Efforts are focused on relieving the symptoms, such as:
The measles vaccine consists of live measles viruses made in chicken embryo cells. The viruses found in the vaccine have been made harmless during the manufacturing process.
It is normally given in combination with:
The vaccine is given under the skin.
All children (with few exceptions) should receive the vaccine two times:
The vaccine can also be given to infants aged 6-11 months who will be traveling internationally. These infants should also get the two routine shots at ages 12-15 months and 4-6 years.
For those 18 years of age or younger who have not been vaccinated, two doses of MMR are given. The doses are separated by four weeks.
Adults born after 1957 who have not been previously vaccinated may need 1-2 doses. Talk with your doctor if you were not previously vaccinated.
The majority of people who get the vaccine do not have any side effects. The most common side effects are a fever and a rash. Redness and swelling at the injection site may occur. Rare complications include:
In some cases, the vaccine should be delayed, such as:
Most children and teens should receive their vaccinations on schedule. However, certain groups should not be vaccinated:
People who meet one of the following criteria for measles immunity do not need to be vaccinated:
If you have the measles, you should be isolated to stop the virus from spreading. For example, children with the measles should stay home until the virus is over.
The immunoglobulin (IG) shot can be given to people who have been exposed to the virus and are not vaccinated. The shot contains antibodies against the virus. If it is within six days of exposure, the shot can protect you. IG is especially important for:
IG is not for those who have received at least one vaccination after 12 months of age unless they have an immune system disorder.
A case of the measles needs to be reported to public health authorities. If you think you or your child has the measles, call the doctor right away.
Anyone who may have been exposed and has not been fully immunized will need to receive the vaccine.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
American Academy of Pediatrics
Vaccines & Immunizations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Baker CJ, Pickerling LK, Chilton L, et al; Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended adult immunization schedule: United States, 2011. Ann Intern Med . 1 Feb 2011. 154(3):168-173.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years —United States, 2012. MMWR . 2012;61(5). Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm6105-Immunization.pdf.
Measles, mumps, and rubella: vaccine use and strategies for elimination of measles, rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome and control of mumps: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00053391.htm . Published 22, 1998. Accessed December 6, 2012.
Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-6 years—United States, 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov... . Published December 23, 2011. Accessed December 6, 2012.
1/31/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ : Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR . 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5701a8.htm . Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.
5/27/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ : Measles—United States, January—May 20, 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011 May 20 early online.
Last reviewed December 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 12/6/2012