How can I catch measles?
Measles is highly contagious. An infected person can spread measles to others even before he or she develops symptoms—from four days before they develop the measles rash through four days afterward. The measles virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat of infected people. When they sneeze or cough, droplets spray into the air. These droplets can infect others for up to 2 hours after the person with measles leaves the room.
How serious is the disease?
Measles can cause serious health complications, such as pneumonia or encephalitis, and even death. Children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are at high risk of getting a serious case of measles. About 1 in 4 unvaccinated people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized; 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling (encephalitis); 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care.
Is measles still a problem in the United States?
Yes. Every year, measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) who get measles while they are in other countries. They can spread measles to other people who are not protected against measles, which sometimes leads to outbreaks. This can occur in communities with unvaccinated people.
Most people in the United States are protected against measles through vaccination, so measles cases in the U.S. are uncommon compared to the number of cases before a vaccine was available. Measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 (elimination is defined as the interruption of continuous measles transmission lasting more than 12 months). Since elimination was declared in 2000, the annual number of people reported to have measles ranged from a low of 37 people in 2004 to a high of 668 people in 2014.
However, in 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014, there were more reported measles cases compared with previous years. CDC experts attribute this to outbreaks of measles occurring in countries to which Americans often travel because each year unvaccinated travelers get measles while abroad, then bring the virus back to the U.S. There was also more spread of the measles virus in recent years since individuals who opt out of vaccine tend to cluster in groups. These groups of susceptible individuals then accumulate and age over time. This makes them susceptible to outbreaks when someone brings the virus into the group from abroad.
If measles is eliminated from the U.S., why do I need the vaccine?
Vaccination has enabled us to reduce measles and most other vaccine-preventable diseases to very low levels in the United States. However, measles is still very common—even epidemic—in other parts of the world. Visitors to our country and unvaccinated U.S. travelers returning from other countries can unknowingly bring (import) measles into the United States. Since the virus is highly contagious, such imported cases can quickly spread, causing outbreaks or epidemics among unvaccinated people and under-vaccinated communities.
To protect your children, yourself, and others in the community, it is important to be vaccinated against measles. You may think your chance of getting measles is small, but the disease still exists, and anyone who is not protected is at risk of getting the disease in the United States and while traveling internationally.
What kind of vaccine is given to prevent measles?
The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles, as well as 2 other viral diseases—mumps and rubella. These 3 vaccines are safe given together. MMR is an attenuated (weakened) live virus vaccine. This means that after injection, the viruses grow and cause a harmless infection in the vaccinated person with very few, if any, symptoms. The person's immune system fights the infection caused by these weakened viruses and immunity develops.
How effective is MMR vaccine?
The measles vaccine is very effective. One dose of measles vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus and two doses are about 97% effective.
Is the vaccine effective/does it work?
One dose of mumps vaccine will ‘take' (be effective) in approximately 80% of people vaccinated, but two doses of mumps vaccine will ‘take' in approximately 90% of people. Therefore, two doses are better at preventing mumps than one dose.
What should I do if I don't know if I've been vaccinated?
Get vaccinated. The MMR vaccine is safe and there is no increased risk of side effects if a person gets another vaccination.
If I had mumps as a child, can I get it again/should I get vaccinated?
Most people who have mumps will be protected (immune) from getting mumps again. There is a small percent of people though, who could get reinfected with mumps and have a milder illness. If mumps was not diagnosed by a physician, then that person is not considered immune and vaccination is recommended.
If I was exposed to someone with mumps, what should I do?
Not everyone who is exposed to someone with mumps will get sick. If a person has been vaccinated with two doses of mumps vaccine, it is very unlikely they will get mumps. However, if a person hasn't been vaccinated, it is possible they could get sick and they should watch for symptoms of mumps. Additionally, if a person hasn't been vaccinated, this is a good time to get another dose of mumps vaccine, and to make sure that everyone else in the house where they live is also vaccinated. Mumps vaccine has not been shown to be effective in preventing disease after exposure, but vaccination of exposed susceptible persons will reduce the risk of disease from possible future exposures. If symptoms develop (generally 16-18 days after exposure), the person should not go to school or work for at least 5 days and should contact their medical provider.
Is Rubella serious?
Rubella is usually mild in children. Complications are not common, but they occur more often in adults. In rare cases, rubella can cause serious problems, including brain infections and bleeding problems.
Rubella is most dangerous for a pregnant woman’s unborn baby. Infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, or birth defects like deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, and heart defects. As many as 85 out of 100 babies born to mothers who had rubella in the first 3 months of pregnancy will have a birth defect.
How does rubella spread?
Rubella spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The disease is most contagious when the infected person has a rash. But it can spread up to 7 days before the rash appears. People without symptoms can still spread rubella.