Measles

Did you know?

Measles is highly contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, up to 2 hours after that person has left the room.

About the vaccine

The measles vaccine is the best way to prevent measles, a serious and sometimes fatal disease.  

The measles vaccine is combined with the mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine), so a person can receive protection from several diseases with one shot.

The efficacy of a single dose of measles vaccine given at 12 or 15 months of age is estimated to be 85% to 95%. With a second dose, efficacy is almost 100%. 

Who should get the MMR vaccine? 

The MMR vaccine is provided free as part of your child’s routine immunizations. The MMR vaccine is given to children as a series of 2 doses. The first dose is given at 12 months of age. As of January 1, 2012, the second dose of the vaccine was moved from 18 months of age to 4 to 6 years of age.  For children who also need protection against chickenpox (varicella), the 2nd dose of vaccine can be given as the combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine. 

The MMR vaccine is also provided free to the following people:

  • Infants aged 6 to 11 months who will be travelling to countries where there is measles, mumps or rubella disease, or that are known to have been in contact with someone with measles
  • Women of child-bearing age who are not immune to rubella
  • Older children and adults who have not been immunized or do not have evidence of immunity to measles, mumps and rubella.

It is recommended that people born in 1970 or later get 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. This is especially important for travelers. People born before 1970 are generally assumed to have acquired immunity to measles or mumps from natural infection. However, there may be susceptible individuals in this age group, and those without a history of measles or mumps vaccine or disease should talk to their health care provider about getting vaccinated. 

The MMR vaccine is safe. It is much safer the get the vaccine than to get measles, mumps or rubella. 

Vaccines are available from public health units, doctors' offices and pharmacies (for people 5 years of age and older). Services vary across BC.

For more information about the vaccine, including the benefits, possible reactions after the vaccine and who should not get the vaccine, see the HealthLinkBC files:

http://immunizebc.ca/diseases-vaccinations/measles

About the disease

  • Measles (red measles) was a common childhood disease before widespread use of vaccines
  • Measles is very contagious and spreads easily
  • A person with measles can spread the virus to others from 4 days before to 4 days after their rash first appears. 
  • Measles starts with a cough, cold-like symptoms, red eyes, and a fever, which are followed by a rash
  • Measles can lead to infections of the ear or lungs (pneumonia). More serious complications, occurring in 1 person in 1,000, include encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. This can lead to seizures, deafness or permanent brain damage
  • One person in every 3,000 with measles may die of complications
  • Complications and deaths are most common in infants less than twelve months old and in adults

For more information on this disease, see the Measles (14b) HealthLink BC file

Photo courtesy of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. More vaccine preventable disease images

What will happen if I or my child gets measles?

Measles starts with a cough, cold-like symptoms and red eyes, and fever. Then a rash starting on the face and neck and spreading to the trunk and limbs appears. Complications are pneumonia affecting the lungs, ear infection, and encephalitis which is infection in the brain. Death can occur although is uncommon.

Note: If there is a case of measles at your child’s school or daycare, and your child is not up to date with their vaccines, they may be excluded from that setting until 21 days after their exposure. That’s how long it takes to see whether they have become infected.

This same rule applies to both children and staff in settings like schools and day cares, because infectious diseases spread easily in these places. It also applies to unimmunized health care workers who are exposed to measles cases in emergency rooms and hospitals.