Frequently Asked Questions about MEASLES

Dutchess County
Department of Health
Frequently Asked Questions about MEASLES
Modified from the Centers From disease Control & Prevention National Immunization Program website:
What is measles?
Measles is an infectious viral disease that occurs most often in the late winter and
spring. It begins with a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose,
and conjunctivitis (pink eye). A rash starts on the face and upper neck, spreads down the back
and trunk, then extends to the arms and hands, as well as the legs and feet. After about 5 days,
the rash fades the same order in which it appeared.
Are there complications of measles?
Approximately 20% of reported measles cases experience one or more complications.
These complications are more common among children less than 5 years of age and adults 20
years of age and older. Ear infections (otitis media) occur in nearly one out of 10 children with
measles and can result in permanent hearing loss. Diarrhea can also occur. Measles can also
cause pneumonia and less commonly encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), hearing loss,
seizures, and death. Measles can also make a pregnant woman have a miscarriage, give birth
prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.
How soon do symptoms appear?
Initial symptoms most commonly appear 8-12 days after exposure to an infected
persons, with rash appearing a few days later. If you have been exposed to measles and
develop fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, or rash, stay home and call your healthcare
provider immediately.
How long is an infected person able to spread the disease?
Infected people are most contagious from about 4 days before their rash starts until 4
days afterwards. People who are diagnosed with measles should stay home until 4 days after
the start of the rash.
What is the treatment for measles?
There is no specific treatment for measles.
How is measles diagnosed?
Measles is diagnosed clinically and by laboratory testing of blood. Urine, throat, or
respiratory specimens may also be requested. Dutchess County Department of Public Health
can assist with the testing at your healthcare provider’s request. Before seeing your
healthcare provider, call ahead and let them know you may have measles so appropriate
measures are taken in the office to prevent infection of others.
How can I catch measles?
A7. Measles is highly contagious. Infected people are usually contagious from about 4 days
before their rash starts to 4 days afterwards. The measles virus can be spread through the air
by droplets (sneeze or cough) and the droplets remain active and contagious on infected
surfaces for up to 2 hours.
Why is vaccination necessary?
Before measles vaccination became routine in the United States, more than 3 million
persons were infected each year, 400–500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and another 1,000
developed chronic disability from measles encephalitis. Widespread use of measles vaccine
has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases in the United States compared with
the pre-vaccine era.
Measles is still common in other countries. The virus is highly contagious and can spread
rapidly in areas where vaccination is not widespread. In 2006 there were 242,000 measles
deaths worldwide, equaling 663 deaths every day or 27 deaths every hour. If vaccinations were
stopped, measles cases would return to pre-vaccine levels and hundreds of people would die
from measles-related illnesses.
Could I still get measles if I am fully vaccinated?
Very few people, about three out of 100, who get two doses of measles vaccine will still
get measles if exposed to the virus. Experts aren’t sure why; it could be that their immune
systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine. But the good news is, fully
vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness, and they are
also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated
because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.
Q10. Do I ever need a booster vaccine?
A10. No. People who received two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the
United States vaccination schedule are considered protected for life and do not ever need a
booster dose.
Adults need at least one dose of measles vaccine, unless they have evidence of immunity.
Adults who are going to be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission, including
students at post-high school education institutions, healthcare personnel, and international
travelers, should make sure they have had two doses separated by at least 28 days.
If you’re not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor.
Q11. Am I protected against measles?
A11. You are considered protected from measles if you have written documentation (records)
showing at least one of the following:
You received two doses of measles-containing vaccine, and you are a(n)
o school-aged child (grades K-12)
o adult who was not vaccinated as a child and will be in a setting that poses a high
risk for measles transmission, including students at post-high school education
institutions, healthcare personnel, and international travelers.
You received one dose of measles-containing vaccine, and you are a(n)
o preschool-aged child
o adult who was not vaccinated as a child and will not be in a high-risk setting for
measles transmission
A laboratory confirmed that you had measles at some point in your life
A laboratory confirmed that you are immune to measles
You were born before 1957
Q12. What should I do if I’m unsure whether I’m immune to measles?
A12. If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your
vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written
documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella
(MMR) vaccine. Another option is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re
immune, but this option is likely to cost more and will take two doctor’s visits. There is no harm
in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps
or rubella).
Q13. If the chance of the diseases is so low, why do I need the vaccine?
A13. It is true that vaccination has enabled us to reduce measles and most other vaccinepreventable 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
United States 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
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 can still infect anyone who is not protected.
Q14. What kind of vaccine is given to prevent measles?
A14. The MMR vaccine prevents measles and 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 grows and causes 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 which lasts throughout that
person’s life.
Q15. How effective is MMR vaccine?
A15. More than 95% of the people who receive a single dose of MMR will develop immunity to
all 3 viruses. A second vaccine dose gives immunity to almost all of those who did not respond
to the first dose.
Q16. What is the most common reaction following MMR vaccine?
A16. Most people have no reaction. However, 5-10 percent of the people receiving the MMR
vaccine experience a low-grade fever and a mild rash.
Q17. How common was measles in the United States before the vaccine?
A17. Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, more than 3 million people got
measles each year in the United States. Of those people, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were
hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles.
Q18. Is measles a concern for the United States?
A18. Yes. Since measles is still common in many countries, this disease will continue to be
brought into the United States. Measles is highly contagious, so anyone who is not protected
against measles is at risk of getting the disease. People who are unvaccinated for any reason,
including those who refuse vaccination, risk getting infected with measles and spreading it to
others, including those who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or have specific
health conditions.
Q19. Could measles ever re-establish itself in the United States?
A19. Yes, it is possible that measles could become endemic (constant presence of a disease
in an area) in the United States again, especially if vaccine coverage levels drop. This can
happen when people:
• Forget to get vaccinated on time
• Don’t know that they need a vaccine dose (this is most common among adults)
• Refuse vaccines for religious, philosophical or personal reasons
Research shows that people who refuse vaccines tend to group together in communities. When
measles gets into communities with pockets of unvaccinated people, outbreaks are more likely
to occur. These communities make it difficult to control the spread of the disease and make us
vulnerable to having the virus re-establish itself in our country. High sustained measles vaccine
coverage and rapid public health response are critical for preventing and controlling measles
cases and outbreaks.
Q20. What are the vaccine coverage levels like in the United States?
A20. Overall, nationally, the rates of people vaccinated against measles have been very
stable since the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program was introduced in 1994. In 2013, the
overall national coverage for MMR vaccine among children aged 19-35 months was 91.9%.
However, MMR vaccine coverage levels continue to vary by state. For example, in 10 states,
95% of the children aged 19-35 months in 2013 had received at least one dose of MMR
vaccine, while in 17 other states, less than 90% of these children were vaccinated against
measles. At the county or lower levels, vaccine coverage rates may vary considerably. Pockets
of unvaccinated people can exist in states with high vaccination coverage, underscoring
considerable measles susceptibility at some local levels. For more information about 2013
childhood vaccination coverage, see a CDC MMWR.
Q21. Will the United States ever get rid of measles completely?
A21. Yes, it's possible. The first step is to eliminate measles from each country and region of
the world. Once this happens, there will be no place from which measles can spread.
All member states in the six World Health Organization regions have committed to eliminating
measles by the year 2020. Once a disease has been eliminated from every country, it is
considered "eradicated" from the world. See the Measles and Rubella Initiative for more