Measles Disease

What is measles?

  • Measles is a very easily spread respiratory infection caused by a virus.
  • Measles is also known as “Red Measles” or rubeola.

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How can I get measles?

  • Measles is not common in Canada due to high vaccination rates.
  • Measles is spread through contact with droplets from the nose and throat of infected persons.
  • Less commonly, particles from an infected person can stay in the air for long periods of time and infect others in the same room or in neighbouring rooms.
  • Measles virus can also survive for two hours on surfaces.
  • Measles is one of the easiest viruses to spread from person to person. People infected with measles can spread the disease to others 4 days before the rash appears and up to 4 days after the rash appears.

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Who is at risk?

  • Anyone born after 1970 who is not vaccinated and who has never had measles disease can become infected.
  • Persons born before 1970 generally are considered protected from measles.
  • Infants under the age of 12 months are most at risk because the vaccination is not given until children are 12 months of age or older. Immunization of older children and adults helps protect infants.

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Can I get measles more than once?

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

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How do I know if I have measles?

Measles symptoms appear in 2 stages:

  1. Those infected have:
    • a cough
    • runny nose
    • red and watery eyes that are sensitive to light
    • a slight fever
  2. The second stage begins after 3 - 7 days. At this time:
    • the fever increases, usually becoming very high (39.4°C - 40.5°C / 103°F - 105°F).
    • Small, white spots appear in the mouth on the inside of the cheeks (Koplik spots).
    • A red rash 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 and then the rest of the body.

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How is measles diagnosed?

  • Measles can be diagnosed by the common signs and symptoms.
  • However, as measles is now uncommon seen in Canada it is important to confirm each infection with lab tests ordered by a doctor.

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If I have contact with the infection, how long does it take to get measles?

  • Symptoms (cough, fever, runny nose, red watery eyes) can appear from 7 - 21 days after contact with an infected individual.
  • Usually the symptoms appear in 10 - 12 days.
  • The rash usually appears 10 - 14 days after contact with the infected person, but can take up to 21 days to appear.

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What can happen if I get measles?

  • Most people are sick for up to 10 days and then recover completely.
  • Symptoms are more severe for infants and adults.
  • Complications of measles include:
    • pneumonia (lung infection)
    • encephalitis (swelling/inflammation of the brain)
    • middle ear infections
    • seizures
  • Pregnant women with measles can have premature delivery and miscarriages.
    • Measles disease does not cause birth defects.
  • In Canada, people rarely die from measles.
  • Measles decreases the body’s ability to fight off other infections for several months.

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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 that the infection is not passed to others at the doctor’s office.
  • Call ahead and tell the doctor’s office about your symptoms and that you have may have been exposed to measles disease.
  • The office needs to arrange appropriate infection control measures for the time of your appointment such as:
    • arranging for your appointment to be the last of the day
    • giving you a mask to wear when you arrive
    • placing you into an examination room right away

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What can I do to prevent measles?

  • People born before 1970 generally are considered protected from measles disease.
  • Everyone else should have at least 1 dose of the measles vaccine, given after their first birthday. For full protection against measles, 2 doses of vaccine are required.
  • Children should have both doses of measles vaccine by 4 - 6 years of age.
  • If you come into contact with someone who has measles or you suspect that you or someone you know have symptoms, call your doctor.

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What can I do if I come into contact with someone who has measles?

  • If an unvaccinated person comes into contact with someone who has measles, there are 2 ways to prevent infection:
    1. A dose of measles vaccine can prevent infection if given within 72 hours of contact with an infected person.
    2. A dose of immune globulin can be given if this is done within 6 days of coming into contact with an infected person. Immune globulin is a blood product containing antibodies that help prevent infection. It is usually given to people at increased risk of severe complications from measles.
  • Those at risk for severe complications include:
    • infants less than 12 months of age
    • pregnant women
    • people with cancer or HIV
    • people taking medications that suppress the immune system
  • The use of immune globulin will greatly reduce the risk of measles infection for an unprotected person who comes into contact with the disease.

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Who can I call for more information?

  • Contact Us for more information about your exposure to measles, measles immunization or past immunization dates.

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