Measles is a highly contagious virus found throughout the world. People get measles by breathing in the measles virus that is spread when an infected person coughs, breathes, or talks. You can get measles just by being in the same room with an infected person.
The US has been experiencing an increase in measles cases related to international travel. Measles is found throughout the world so all US residents should be immune to measles before international travel.
Symptoms of measles include high fever, generalized rash, runny nose, pink, watery eyes, coughing, diarrhea, and earache. The average time between exposure to the measles virus and development of symptoms is usually 10 to 12 days but can range from as few as seven days to as many as 21.
There is a vaccine to protect against measles. The vaccine is given as part of a combination vaccine, called the MMR vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.
Which adults should get vaccinated against measles with MMR vaccine?
- Adults born in 1957 or later who do not have a medical contraindication should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, unless they have documentation of vaccination with at least one dose of measles-containing vaccine or other acceptable evidence of immunity to the disease.
- College and university students, healthcare personnel, and international travelers are at increased risk for measles, and should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine to ensure adequate protection.
The MMR vaccine is very safe and highly effective with few side effects. Mild reactions such as fever, redness, or swelling at the injection site have been reported. Adult women may infrequently have joint symptoms like pain and stiffness from the rubella part of the vaccine.
As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with measles, mumps, and rubella are much greater than the potential risks associated with the vaccine. MMR vaccine should not be given to persons who are pregnant or severely immunosuppressed.
Disease and vaccine facts
- FACT: Measles can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.
- FACT: The risk of death from measles is higher for adults and infants than for children.
- FACT: Pregnant women who get measles have an increased risk for early labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight infants.
- FACT: Measles is contagious from four days before until four days after the rash appears.
- FACT: Measles can cause life-threatening pneumonia and brain inflammation, middle-ear infection, severe diarrhea, and sometimes death.
- FACT: US outbreaks of measles in 2018 and 2019 primarily affected those who were not vaccinated with MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.
- FACT: Most cases of measles in the US result from infections acquired in other countries or are linked to imported cases.
- FACT: Globally, measles continues to be endemic, resulting in 164,000 deaths each year.
Short animated video explaining how easy it is for measles to spread (0:16)
Short animated video explaining how measles can make a comeback, and how to prevent it (0-:17)
Complications from measles are more common among adults—Learn how to protect yourself