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Measles Disease

Dr. Hamidah Meghani, Halton Region’s Medical Officer of Health, talks about measles.
Courtesy of CogecoTV

January 20, 2015

What is measles (red measles, rubeola)?

  • Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can affect people of any age who are not immune to the virus.
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What are the symptoms of measles?

  • Measles symptoms appear in 2 stages:
    1. During the first stage, symptoms can include a:
      • cough
      • runny nose
      • red and watery eyes that may be sensitive to light
      • slight fever
    2. The second stage begins after 3-7 days:
      • fever increases, usually becoming very high.
      • small, white spots appear on the inside of the mouth (Koplik spots)
      • a red blotchy rash then develops, first on the face and then moving down the body, arms, and legs.

      These symptoms last approximately 5 days with the rash clearing on the face first, followed by rest of the body.

  • Most people with measles are sick for up to 10 days and then recover completely.
  • Symptoms can be more severe for infants and adults.
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What are the complications of measles?

  • Measles can lead to:
    • ear infections
    • lung infections (pneumonia)
    • middle ear infections
    • seizures
    • swelling of the brain (encephalitis)
    • even death
  • In rare cases, a fatal brain disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) can be triggered years after being infected with measles.
  • While measles does not cause birth defects, pregnant women with measles can have premature delivery and miscarriages.
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How can I get measles?

  • Measles is spread when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. The particles from an infected person can stay in the air and on surfaces for up to 2 hours after that person has left a room.
  • Measles is not common in Canada due to high vaccination rates. However, measles can occur in unvaccinated or under vaccinated persons, especially if those people have travelled to countries where measles is more common.

When is someone with measles contagious?

  • People infected with measles can spread it to others 4 days before to 4 days after the rash appears.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

  • Infants under the age of 12 months are most at risk since routine vaccination for measles is not given until children are 12 months of age or older.
  • Anyone born in 1970 who is not vaccinated and who has never had measles disease can become infected.
  • People born before 1970 generally are considered protected from measles because measles was widely circulating in Canada at that time. However, some of these individuals can be at risk. Those who are unsure can have a blood test done to check if they are immune.
  • Health care workers, military personnel, post-secondary students and travellers to areas where measles is circulating are at risk of exposure to unvaccinated or under vaccinated people and should make sure they are protected.

If I have been in contact with someone who had measles, how long before I can get symptoms?

  • The Symptoms of measles usually appear 10 days after contact with an infected individual, but can range from 7 - 21 days.
  • The rash usually appears 10-14 days after exposure.

What should I do, if I have symptoms of measles?

  • Call your health care provider before visiting his/her office.
    • Notify him/her about your symptoms.
  • You may be asked to visit the office when there are no other patients waiting and to wear a mask to prevent others from getting sick.

Can I get measles more than once?

  • No. Once someone has had measles, they are generally protected for life.

How is measles diagnosed?

  • By assessing your symptoms along with laboratory tests that may include collecting:
    • a swab from inside your nose or throat
    • a urine specimen
    • a blood sample
  • For more information, talk to your health care provider.

How is measles treated?

  • There is no specific treatment for measles.
  • Supportive care in hospital may be needed for severe infections, but most people can recover at home.
  • If you think you have measles, it is important to speak to a doctor before visiting the doctor’s office, so that the infection is not passed to others.

What can I do to prevent measles?

  • Get vaccinated!
    • If you were born in 1970 or later, getting vaccinated is the best way of preventing infection.
    • People born before 1970 are generally considered protected from measles, but should follow up with their health care provider to assess their immunity to measles.
  • Anyone who has had contact with measles should watch for signs and symptoms and contact their doctor if symptoms develop.

Who should get the measles vaccine?

  • In Ontario, all children routinely receive 2 measles-containing vaccinations. For full protection against measles, 2 doses of vaccine are required.
    1. The first is given at 12 months of age (MMR).
    2. The second is given before school entry between 4 and 6 years of age with the chickenpox vaccine (MMRV).
  • Adults born after January 1, 1970 should have 2 doses of measles containing vaccine
  • Regardless of age, health care workers, students in post-secondary school, military personnel, and travellers should ensure they are immune either by receiving 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine or through a laboratory blood test to show they are immune. In order to be effective, the second MMR vaccine should be given at least 4 weeks after the first dose.
  • If travelling to areas where measles is circulating, infants 6 - 12 months of age can receive 1 dose of MMR vaccine. 2 additional doses would still be required after the first birthday.
  • Get more information about immunizations.

Who can I call for more information?

  • For more information about measles, talk to your healthcare provider or call the Halton Region Health Department by dialing 311.