Measles

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Find information in different languages in the HealthLinkBC File: Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) Vaccine

Did you know?

Measles is highly contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been. 

What is the measles vaccine?

The measles vaccine protects against measles, a very contagious disease caused by the measles virus. The measles vaccine is given as the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine

Who should get the MMR vaccine?

  • The MMR vaccine is given to children as a series of 2 doses. The first dose is given at 12 months, and the second dose is given at 4 - 6 years of age. Children 4 - 12 years of age who also need protection against chickenpox (varicella) can get their second dose as the combined measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.
  • Older children and teens who have not been immunized should also get two doses of the MMR vaccine.
  • It is recommended that people born in 1970 or later (1957 for health care workers) get 2 doses of the vaccine. People born in 1970 or later (1957 for health care workers) with documentation of two doses of a measles-containing vaccine are considered immune to measles, and no booster doses are needed.
  • People born before 1970 (1957 for health care workers) are generally assumed to have acquired immunity to measles from natural infection. Therefore the MMR vaccine is not routinely recommended for these people.

Travellers 

  • Measles travel health notices are currently posted for many countries throughout the world. It's important to make sure that you and your loved ones are protected against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases before travelling.
  • The MMR vaccine is recommended for infants 6 – 11 months of age if they will be travelling overseas to areas with ongoing measles outbreaks. These infants would still require 2 doses of MMR vaccine after 12 months of age. 
  • Children younger than 4 years of age and travelling overseas to an area with high rates of measles, should get an early second dose before travelling. This dose can be given as early as 4 weeks after the first dose.
  • Read more about travel vaccines here.

What are the benefits of the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is the best way to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella, which are serious and sometimes fatal diseases. When you or your child get vaccinated, you help protect others as well.

What are the side effects?

Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get measles, mumps, or rubella.
 
Many people have no side effects from the vaccine. For those that do, common side effects may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. A mild fever, a rash that looks like measles and swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck can occur about 7 to 12 days after getting the vaccine. Temporary joint pain may occur in teenage and adult women.
 
Rarely, more serious reactions can include seizures caused by fever (about 1 child in 3,000), a temporary drop in the blood cells that help prevent bleeding (about 1 person in 30,000), and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain (about 1 person in 1 million). The possibility of getting encephalitis from measles is about 1 in 1,000 which is much higher than from the vaccine.
 
It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is a very rare possibility, between one in 100,000 and one in a million, of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips. Should this reaction occur, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
 
It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.

Where can I learn more?

Summary of measles-containing vaccine programs in BC:

  • 1969: Measles vaccine recommended for infants at 12 months of age, preschool, and susceptible school children.
  • 1981: One dose of MMR vaccine  provided for all children 12 months of age and older.
  • 1986: One dose of MMR vaccine catch-up program for all children from Kindergarten to grade 12.
  • 1996: A second dose of MMR vaccine introduced at 18 months as part of the routine schedule.
  • 1996: A measles, rubella (MR) vaccine provided to all children 19 months of age and older (toddlers, preschool children, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students) in a province-wide campaign. The second dose was for measles protection. Records for this MR vaccine campaign were provided to parents only and not retained by health units.

Without a record of immunization (or proof of immunity to a disease), a person is considered unimmunized and unprotected and should generally be vaccinated (or revaccinated) to ensure protection. It is safe to repeat vaccines.

Find tips for locating immunization records here

About measles

  • Measles, also known as red measles, causes fever, rash, cold-like symptoms and red, inflamed eyes that can be sensitive to light.
  • Measles is very contagious and spreads easily. When an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes, the virus spreads through the air. The measles virus can survive in small droplets in the air for several hours.
  • It 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.
  • About one person in 3,000 with measles can die from complications.
     

Date last updated: 
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Date last reviewed: 
Monday, Apr 06, 2020