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Updated January 31, 2019

Number of current cases in King County: 1

Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases, but is preventable through vaccination. The measles virus is spread through coughing and sneezing. Before widespread use of measles vaccines there was an average of half a million measles cases and hundreds of deaths each year in the United States.

Measles is common in many parts of the world, including both industrialized and developing countries. Local cases of measles are often linked to travel or exposure to recent travelers. Worldwide, more than 20 million people are infected each year. Measles is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death among children in the world.

Resources for the general public

Measles: What You Should Know (Infographic from Tacoma-Pierce County Health District)

Measles: What you should know

Infographic from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department available in multiple languages.

Resources for child care facilities and schools

Resources for health care professionals

Frequently Asked Questions about measles:

This FAQ also available in PDF format.

Measles is caused by a virus and spreads very easily when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. It spreads so easily that someone who is not protected (either by being immunized or 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.

Measles is very contagious and can cause serious illness. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, 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 miscarry or give birth prematurely. Serious health problems from measles are more 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.

Measles causes fever, runny nose, cough, conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes) and a rash all over the body. People can spread measles before they show symptoms. Symptoms usually last 7-10 days.

Getting the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is the best protection against measles. The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective. When more than 95 percent of people are vaccinated against measles, the disease slows down and doesn’t spread. This is called community (or herd) immunity.

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).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers photos that show what measles looks like.

There is no cure for measles. Over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol can help relieve the fever that accompanies measles, and other symptoms typically disappear within two to three weeks. Medical care can help relieve symptoms and address complications such as bacterial infections. Some measles cases require hospitalization.

Vitamin A cannot prevent or cure measles, but is used to prevent severe complications, including death in children with measles. Severe measles cases among children, such as those who are hospitalized, should be treated with vitamin A.

Before the measles vaccine was introduced, measles caused about 400 deaths in the U.S. each year. Most people in the U.S. are now vaccinated against measles or are immune from having measles as a child, but outbreaks do happen. Most commonly, measles is brought into the U.S. by someone who has traveled outside the country. When unvaccinated people are exposed, measles spreads very quickly.

Anyone who hasn’t been immunized or had measles in the past is at risk. Babies younger than 12 months are at risk because they are too young to have been vaccinated. Others at highest risk include children under 5 years, adults over 20 years, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems from drugs or underlying disease.

Call your doctor, nurse, or clinic right away. Before you go to the doctor’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. Stay away from other people until at least four days after the rash starts or a test proves it’s not measles.

The most common vaccine for measles is MMR, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective.

Children

Children should receive two doses of MMR vaccine starting with the first dose at 12-15 months of age, and the second dose at 4-6 years of age or at least 28 days following the first dose.

Students at post-high school educational institutions

Students at post-high school educational institutions without evidence of measles immunity need two doses of MMR vaccine, with the second dose administered no earlier than 28 days after the first dose.

Adults

People who are born during or after 1957 who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine.

International travelers

People 6 months of age or older who will be traveling internationally should be protected against measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information on measles and international travel.

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 fully vaccinated people 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.

If you’ve had two doses of MMR vaccine, you don’t need a booster. CDC considers people who received two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the U.S. vaccination schedule protected for life.

Adults need at least one dose of measles vaccine, unless they have evidence of immunity. Healthy adults with one documented MMR vaccine are considered protected for life. If you are unsure of your vaccine history or just want peace of mind, it is safe to get another MMR vaccine. Health care workers should have two documented vaccines as proof of immunity.

If you're not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor. More information about who needs measles vaccine.

  • Call your doctor, nurse or clinic. 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.

  • If you don't have a healthcare provider, check www.vaccinefinder.org for locations. Click on locations on the map to get details about any age restrictions (pharmacies may only be licensed to vaccinate specific age groups). Call ahead to make sure they have MMR in stock. There are fewer pharmacies that vaccinate young children and toddlers. Care Clinics at Bartell's Drugs accepts walk-ins who are ages two and up.

Vaccine safety and monitoring

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.

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.

Like any medication, the measles vaccine (MMR) may cause side effects. Most are mild:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Mild rash
  • Swollen glands in the cheek or neck

No, the weakened virus in the MMR vaccine is not able to be passed from someone who has just been vaccinated to another person.

For pregnant women and new parents

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.

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.

Infants depend fully on the immunity of the community around them for protection. 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. You may also want to consider delaying travel to areas where there are current outbreaks until the outbreak is over or your baby is old enough for vaccination.

For updates on the outbreak in Washington state, go to doh.wa.gov/measles.

Link/share our site at www.kingcounty.gov/measles