What is the measles virus?
Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. Measles is a disease of humans. It is not spread by any other animal species. Some people think of measles as just a little rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years of age.
Sometimes, measles can lead to:
- Ear infections
- Diarrhea (watery poop)
- Pneumonia (lung infection)
- Inflammation of the brain
What are the signs and symptoms of the measles?
The symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected.
Measles typically begins with
- high fever
- runny nose
- red, watery eyes
Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots.
How are measles spread?
Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected. Your child can get measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even up to two hours after that person has left. An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing he/she has the disease—from four days before developing the measles rash through four days afterward.
What is the best protection against measles?
The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles. Your child needs two doses of MMR vaccine for best protection:
- The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age
- The second dose 4 through 6 years of age
How does the vaccine work?
When you get measles vaccine, your immune system makes protective virus-fighting antibodies against the harmless vaccine virus. Measles vaccine protects you from wild-type measles because if you have been vaccinated and then are exposed to someone with measles, your body remembers how to fight off the wild-type virus. That’s because the vaccine trained your immune system.
If someone has received two booster vaccines as a child, do they need to get vaccinated again?
No, the CDC considers people who received two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the U.S. vaccination schedule protected for life, and they do not ever need a booster dose
What should someone do if they are unsure that they are immune to measles?
If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Another option is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re immune, but this option will take two doctor’s visits. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles.
If someone has been exposed to the measles virus, what should they do?
They should immediately call their doctor and let them know that they have been exposed to someone who has measles. Their doctor can
- make special arrangements to evaluate them, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk, and
- determine if they are immune to measles based on your vaccination record, age, or laboratory evidence.
What should someone do if they think they have the measles?
They should immediately call their doctor and let them know about their symptoms so that they can tell them what to do next. Their doctor can make special arrangements to evaluate them, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk.
Meredith Maxwell, M.D., M.H.A., attended the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, where she completed her family medicine residency, before joining the Touro Infirmary Health System. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine Diplomate.