What is measles?

Measles, or red measles, is a serious viral illness that causes fever, a rash, red eyes, and cold-like symptoms. Measles was a common childhood disease before widespread use of vaccines.  Measles infection can lead to ear infections and pneumonia. Less commonly but much more seriously, measles can lead to infection of the brain (encephalitis) which can lead to seizures, deafness, and permanent brain damage. Measles can be fatal.

How does it spread?

Measles is very contagious. The infection spreads by contact with droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected person (airborne). Like the common cold, measles infection can spread through coughing and sneezing.  A person with measles can spread the virus to others both before and after the rash appears.

Signs and symptoms

Measles starts with:

  • Red eyes
  • Cold like symptoms, cough, sore throat
  • Fever
  • light sensitivity
  • muscle pain
  • tiny white spots inside the mouth

The most visible sign of measles is a rash that appears three to five days after the first sign of illness. It usually starts on the head and spreads to other areas and can last four to seven days. It can appear as flat, discoloured areas or as solid, red, raised areas that later join together. The rash changes from red to dark brown before finally disappearing.

How can I protect myself and people around me?

Immunization is the best way to protect your children against measles throughout their lives. The MMR immunization is very effective and safe. 99% of people who get 2 doses of measles vaccine are protected. In most cases there are no adverse reactions and reactions that are caused by the vaccine are mild. Getting your child immunized with MMR helps to protect them and those who cannot be immunized with this vaccine.

Common Side effects of the vaccine:

  • low grade fever (38-39 degrees C)
  • mild pain, redness and slight swelling at the injection site
  • Measles like rash appearing anywhere on the body 7 – 12 days from the immunization (rash not contagious or painful)
  • Temporary joint pain may occur in girls and women

Rare Side effects:

Rare but more serious reactions can be seizures caused by fever (1 child per 3000), temporary clotting abnormalities, and inflammation of the brain or encephalitis (about 1 per million doses, so the chance of getting encephalitis with measles is much, much higher than getting it as a complication of MMR vaccine.)

The measles immunization is a combined vaccine with measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and is part of the Yukon children’s routine immunization program.  The immunization is given at one year of age and again at 4 – 6 years of age. Adults also need to be protected and may receive the immunization if they have not had the disease, or have not been immunized.  This vaccine is publicly funded in the Yukon.

For information on the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) immunization in Yukon, view the information sheet.

For more information, visit the Canadian Paediatric Society web site, Caring for Kids, or Immunize Canada.