Frequently Asked Questions about Measles
Updated: Jan. 30, 2019
With confirmation of measles virus in Washington state, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) is advising individuals to check their children’s and their own vaccination status and verify they are up-to-date with the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Most people have immunity to the measles through vaccination, so the risk to the general public is low. Yet, only 61 percent of 4- to 6-year olds in Spokane County have received their second dose of MMR vaccine, leaving room for improvement in our community’s immunity.
Although no measles cases are confirmed in Spokane, Clark County Public Health, in western Washington state, has identified dozens of confirmed cases. Additionally, related cases have now been identified outside Clark County. Washington State Department of Health has the most up-to-date information on the outbreak. Anyone who believes they may have been exposed and believes they have symptoms of measles should call their healthcare provider prior to visiting the medical office to make a plan that avoids exposing others in the waiting room.
What is measles?
Measles is a highly-contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat, and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. It spreads so easily that someone who is not protected (either by not being immunized or not having had measles in the past) can get it if they walk into a room where someone with the disease has been in the past couple of hours.
How serious is measles?
Measles is a very serious disease. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, which can result in hearing loss, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. One or two out of 1,000 die from measles complications. Measles can also cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely or have a low birth weight baby. Complications from measles are very common among children younger than five and adults older than 20.
Measles spreads so easily that anyone who is exposed to it and is not immune (for example, someone who has not been vaccinated) will probably get the disease.
What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles causes fever, runny nose, cough, and a rash all over the body. People can spread measles before they show symptoms.
How soon do symptoms appear?
- 7 to 21 days after exposure: mild to moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, and sore throat.
- 2 to 4 days after symptoms begin: tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth.
- 3 to 5 days after symptoms begin: a red or reddish-brown raised rash that feels like sandpaper appears, usually beginning on the face. The rash rapidly spreads down the neck, upper arms, and chest. Later, it spreads over the back, abdomen, the rest of the arms, thighs, legs, and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Symptoms usually last seven to 10 days.
What does measles look like?
Many people have never seen what measles looks like because vaccination made cases fairly rare in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers photos that show what measles looks like.
How is measles treated?
There is no specific treatment for measles. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine may prevent illness if given to unvaccinated kids over 12 months of age or adults within the first three days after being exposed to measles.
How is measles prevented?
Getting vaccinated is the best protection against measles. When more than 90 percent of people are vaccinated against measles, the disease slows down and doesn’t spread. This is called community (or herd) immunity.
Isn’t measles rare in the United States?
Before the measles vaccine was introduced, measles caused about 400 deaths in the United States each year. Most Americans are now vaccinated against measles or have natural immunity, but outbreaks do happen. As the percentage of children fully vaccinated against measles declines, even slightly, the occurrence of measles disease becomes less rare. Most commonly, measles is brought into the United States by someone, i.e. a U.S. citizen, who has traveled outside the country. When unvaccinated people are exposed, measles spreads very quickly.
Who is at risk from measles?
Anyone who hasn’t been immunized or had measles in the past is at risk. Babies younger than 12 months are at risk because most are too young to have been vaccinated yet. Pregnant women, young kids, and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for complications from measles.
What if someone in my family may have measles or was exposed to someone with measles?
Call your doctor, nurse or clinic right away. Before you go to the provider’s office, call to tell them that you or your family member might have measles. This will allow them to take steps to avoid exposing other people. Try to stay away from other people until at least four days after the rash starts or a test proves it’s not measles.
Where can I get more information about measles?
About the Measles Vaccine
What is the measles vaccine?
The most common vaccine for measles is MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
Who needs the measles vaccine (MMR)?
Kids need two doses of MMR – the first dose at age 12-15 months and the second at four to six years of age.
Young kids who travel abroad and who are at risk need extra measles vaccine:
- Infants six to 11 months old need one dose of MMR before travel. In addition, they still need to get both regular measles vaccine doses – the first at 12-15 months old and the second at 4-6 years old.
- Kids 12 months or older need two doses of MMR (separated by at least 28 days) before travel.
Adults born in 1957 or later should get one dose of the vaccine if they haven’t had measles or didn’t get the vaccine. If you’re unsure, you can have a blood test done that will let you know if you have immunity. Unsure adults can also still get the vaccine, since there is no harm in getting it a second time
Most adults born before 1957 have likely had measles and are considered immune – so they don’t need the vaccine.
How do I locate my vaccination records? How do I locate my family’s?
There are a few ways you can access your family's immunization information:
- Quickest option: Sign up for MyIR, to view, download, and print your family’s immunization information
- Already have an account? Log in to MyIR
- Option 2: Visit or call your usual location to receive vaccinations, i.e. local pharmacy, healthcare provider; or ask your child’s school
- Option 3: Request a complete immunization record from Spokane Regional Health District
- Complete this form* and:
- Complete this form* and:
*Parents cannot request on behalf of children over age 18. Individuals 18 years and older must submit their own form.
Vaccine Safety and Monitoring
Is the measles vaccine safe?
Research has shown that the measles vaccine (MMR) is safe. Getting vaccinated is much safer than getting any of the three diseases the vaccine protects against.
You can get more information on the safety of the MMR vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How are vaccines monitored for safety?
Vaccines are tested before they’re licensed for use. Once a vaccine is in use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration always monitor the vaccine to make sure it’s safe and effective.
Are there side effects from the vaccine?
Like any medication, the measles vaccine (MMR) may cause side effects. Most are mild:
- Pain at the injection site.
- Mild rash.
- Swollen glands in the cheek or neck.
Where to Get the Measles Vaccine
Where can I get the measles vaccine?
- Call your doctor, nurse or clinic.
- Visit www.healthmapfinder.org
- Visit your local pharmacy.
If you need help finding a health care provider or if you don’t have health insurance, call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit ParentHelp123 website.
I’m looking for the measles-only vaccine. I've called a couple clinics and they don’t have it. Where can I find this?
The manufacturer no longer produces single antigen measles, mumps, and/or rubella vaccines for the U.S. market. Only combined MMR is available.
How to Pay for the Measles Vaccine
How can I pay for the vaccine if I’m uninsured?
There may be programs that can help you. Call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit parenthelp123 website for more information.
For Pregnant Women and New Parents
Should pregnant women get the measles vaccine (MMR)?
Pregnant women should not get the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women who need the vaccine should wait until after giving birth. Women should avoid getting pregnant for four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine.
How soon can a new baby get vaccinated against measles?
The recommendation for babies is to get the first of two doses of MMR at 12-15 months of age. The second dose, usually given at 4-6 years, will provide full protection for your child.
If you plan to travel out of the country with a baby who is between six and 11 months old, your baby should get a dose of MMR before traveling. He or she will also still need the two regular doses at 12-15 months and 4-6 years.
Should new parents and caregivers get vaccinated?
If parents or caregivers haven’t gotten the MMR vaccine or had measles in the past, they should get vaccinated. It’s important to make sure people who are around your new baby do not expose your baby to measles – and other diseases like whooping cough – that your baby is too young to be vaccinated against. This includes siblings, who should also be up-to-date on all their childhood vaccines for their own protection and to protect the baby.
I’m pregnant and I plan on breastfeeding after I have my baby. Is it safe to get the MMR vaccine?
Pregnant women should not get the vaccine. You can get MMR vaccine any time after delivery. After having your baby, if you are susceptible to measles, mumps or rubella, you can get MMR vaccine before hospital discharge, even if you get RhoGAM during your hospital stay. Breastfeeding does not interfere with the response to MMR vaccine, and your baby will not be affected by the vaccine through your breast milk.
For People Traveling
We have an 8-month-old and we have travel plans to an area where there is known outbreak. We will be leaving next week. Is it safe to travel?
Please talk to your healthcare provider first. If you are traveling to an area with a known outbreak, the MMR shot can be given to kids 6 months through 11 months of age. The MMR given before your child’s first birthday does not count as part of the two-dose series. Instead, repeat the dose when the child is 12 months of age (as long as 28 days have passed since the last dose). It’s best to get your shot a month in advance if you’re traveling. Your healthcare provider knows you and your family best and can make the best determination based on his/her assessment.
We are grandparents and traveling to an outbreak area to babysit our grandchildren. We can’t remember having the measles or the shot and we can’t find our records. What should we do?
Without a written record, it’s hard to know what type of vaccine you may have received. If you were born before 1957 you are considered immune. Acceptable evidence of measles immunity includes a positive titer for antibody, birth before 1957, or written documentation of vaccination. A personal history of measles is not acceptable as proof of immunity. If your titer is not positive, you can have one dose of MMR.
Do I need to get the measles vaccine (MMR) if I’m traveling outside the country?
If you are not immune to measles – either from being immunized or having had measles in the past – you are at risk for getting measles. Even though measles is pretty rare in the United States, it’s still a very common disease in many other countries.
Anyone who has not been vaccinated or had measles in the past should get vaccinated before any travel outside the United States:
- Infants aged six through 11 months should get one dose of measles vaccine (they will still need two additional doses, per the recommended schedule – one at 12-15 months and another at 4-6 years).
- Children 12 months of age or older should get two doses separated by at least 28 days.
- Adolescents and adults should get two doses separated by at least 28 days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information on measles and international travel.
For Healthcare Workers and Providers
Is the measles vaccine (MMR) recommended for healthcare workers?
Healthcare workers and providers in medical facilities should be immune to measles, mumps, and rubella. Those workers who were born in 1957 or later can be considered immune only if they have documentation of:
- Lab confirmation of disease or immunity, or
- Two doses of live measles and mumps vaccines given on after the first birthday and separated by 28 days or more and at least one dose of live rubella vaccine
I am a healthcare provider, do I need to report measles cases?
In Washington state, measles is a notifiable condition. This means all healthcare providers and facilities must immediately report all confirmed and probable measles cases to Spokane Regional Health District.
Where can I get more information about measles?
- Photos of Measles and People with Measles (CDC)
- Measles References and Resources (CDC) – includes textbooks and guidelines, publications, and CDC health advisories
- Measles Statistics and Surveillance (CDC)
- Measles Multimedia (CDC) – includes videos and podcasts about measles vaccination and outbreaks