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What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that causes fever and a rash. Measles is more common in winter and spring. Epidemics of measles can occur. The last nation-wide epidemic occurred from 1989 through 1991; over 55 thousand measles cases and roughly 135 deaths were reported in the United States during this period.

Who gets measles?

A person can get measles at any age although it is usually considered a childhood disease. Most measles cases in the United States occur in pre-schoolers and school-aged children. Children not adequately vaccinated against measles are at highest risk for infection.

How is measles spread?

Measles is spread by direct contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person or by airborne droplets. Measles is one of the most contagious human diseases.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Early symptoms include fever, which can reach 103-105 degrees F, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Roughly 2-4 days later, a rash of red spots develops on the face and then spreads over the entire body. Little white spots, called Koplik spots, may appear on the gums and inside of the cheeks.

How soon do symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually appear 10-12 days after exposure to an infected person.

When and for how long is a person able to spread measles?

A person is able to spread measles from 4 days before to 4 days after the appearance of the rash.

Does past infection make a person immune?

Yes. Infection produces lifelong immunity.

What is the treatment for measles?

There is no specific treatment for measles.

What are the complications associated with measles?

About one-third of reported measles cases have at least one complication. Complications of measles can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, seizures, infections of the brain and nervous system, and death. In pregnant women, measles can cause miscarriages and birth defects. Measles is more severe in infants and adults than in school-aged children.

How can measles be prevented?

Anyone born after January 1, 1957, who does not have a record of physician-diagnosed measles or a blood test proving measles immunity, should receive 2 doses of measles vaccine, preferably as MMR (the measles, mumps, rubella combination vaccine). MMR is preferred as it provides protection against all three diseases.

The first vaccine dose should be given at 12 months of age, and the second dose should be given at 4 years of age. Measles vaccine is required of all children enrolled in schools and prekindergarten programs. Since August 1, 1990, measles vaccine has also been required of college students unless they can prove they are already immune.

For more information on where your child can be vaccinated, call 311.