Symptoms of measles

Symptoms of measles begin 7 – 21 days after exposure to a case of measles and include fever, runny nose, cough, drowsiness, irritability and red eyes. Small white spots can appear on the inside of the mouth and throat, but are not always present. Then, 3 – 7 days after the start of the symptoms, a red blotchy rash appears on the face and then progresses down the body.

Most people fully recover from measles within 2 to 3 weeks. But measles can sometimes cause complications, such as pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea, hearing loss, brain swelling (encephalitis), seizures, or, rarely, even death.

How measles is spread

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.

If I think I may have measles

If you think that you or a family member has measles, or has been exposed to measles it’s important to call your health care provider immediately. Be sure to call ahead to let the health care provider know that you are coming and suspect that you may have measles or may have been exposed, so that the proper precautions can be taken.

Measles can be prevented with immunization

In Ontario, two measles-containing vaccines are available; a combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and a combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.

The MMR and MMRV vaccines are part of the routine publicly funded vaccines available free to all children in Ontario.

According to the Publicly Funded Immunization Schedules for Ontario, it is recommended that the first dose of MMR vaccine be given at 12 months of age and a second dose of MMRV vaccine can be given between 4 to 6 years of age (preferably prior to school entry). All children in Ontario should have two doses of measles-containing vaccine to attend school

Adults who have not had MMR vaccine can be immunized as well. The Publicly Funded Immunization Schedules for Ontario recommends that adults receive one dose of MMR vaccine.

A second dose of MMR vaccine is also recommended for adults who are at high risk of being exposed or exposing others to the disease.

Safety of MMR vaccine

The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Most children will have no reaction. The vaccine can cause a general feeling of being unwell and fever in some children six to 23 days after MMR immunization (with or without rash) lasting up to 3 days. Allergic reactions to the MMR vaccine are very rare.

The vaccine is safe for household members of people with immune system problems and household members of pregnant women. Breastfeeding women can receive the MMR vaccine.

There is no evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

Speak with your health care provider or local public health unit about the benefits and risks of the vaccine, as well as the risks of not getting vaccinated.

Who should not receive the MMR vaccine

There are some groups who should generally not be given the vaccine such as, but not limited to:

  • individuals who are pregnant (women of childbearing age should be advised to avoid pregnancy for at least 1 month following immunization with MMR vaccine)
  • individuals who have a history of anaphylaxis after previous administration of the product (or components of the vaccine)
  • those who have medical conditions that may be contraindicated (e.g., individuals with history of convulsions, certain immunosuppressant medications, congenital or hereditary immunodeficiency)

People who have problems with their immune system should speak with their health care provider to determine when the MMR vaccine should be given. As well, women should not be vaccinated if they are pregnant and should not become pregnant within 4 weeks after getting the MMR vaccine.

Treatment for measles

There is no specific treatment for persons with measles infection other than supportive care. Unimmunized persons over 6 months of age or persons who have received only one dose of measles-containing vaccine and who have been exposed to measles may be protected if they receive a dose of MMR vaccine within 72 hours from exposure. In addition, people who are at high risk (young infants, pregnant women and immunocompromised) can receive immune globulin (a substance made from human blood plasma that contains protective antibodies) within 6 days of exposure. Both of these measures reduce the risk of infection among people who have been exposed.

Immunity in adulthood

If you had measles as a child you are likely immune.

What is required by schools and licensed daycare centres

Children for whom the public health unit does not have required immunization records or a valid exemption may be temporarily suspended from school until the required records are provided. In this case, parents will receive notification from the health unit during the school year with enough advance notice to report the records or have their child immunized, in order to avoid suspension from school.

Note that children who are exempt from immunization are at increased risk and may not be permitted to attend school during a disease outbreak.

Any child attending a licensed daycare centre is required to be immunized according to their age and what they are due to receive as per the immunization schedule, unless they have a valid exemption.

International travel

People traveling to areas where measles outbreaks are occurring should receive a second dose of measles vaccine. Infants aged 6 months and older can also safely receive the MMR vaccine before travel.

Visit Public Health Agency of Canada's website for Travel Health Notices and information on measles activity internationally. It is advised that Canadians should ensure that they are up to date with their measles immunizations.

Where to get the MMR vaccine

The MMR vaccine is publicly funded and available at your health care provider’s office or through most local public health unit immunization clinics.

If you're not sure if you or your child has received the full vaccination

Consult your personal immunization record, or the "Yellow Card," to see if you or your children have received the full dosage. If you have lost your card, do not have one or are still not sure, talk to your health care provider or call your local public health unit. It is safe to receive a dose of measles-containing vaccine as long as you have not received it in the previous month.

Your record of protection

After you or your child receives any immunization, make sure your health care provider updates the personal immunization record, the "Yellow Card". You will need to provide this information to your local health unit when your child enters school and as they get additional immunizations. Keep your records in a safe place.

For more information on immunization