Updated March 2015
Measles, also called red measles or rubeola, is a very contagious viral infection. Measles spreads when a person infected with measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes. The virus can still be on surfaces and in the air up to two hours after that person is gone from a room. Measles still spreads in some parts of the world. Measles is rare in Canada due to high vaccination rates, but outbreaks do occur from time to time.
Measles symptoms begin with a fever, runny nose, cough and red eyes. After a few days, a red blotchy rash will appear on the face and spreads down the body. Most people recover fully from measles in two weeks. Symptoms are more severe in infants and adults.
Measles can also lead to ear infections, lung infections (pneumonia), swelling of the brain (encephalitis), hearing loss, seizures, permanent brain damage (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) or death. Measles in pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, low birth weight and miscarriage.
Symptoms usually appear 10 days (range seven to 21 days) after contact with a person who is contagious with measles. The rash usually appears 10-14 days after exposure. An infected person can spread measles to others from four days before to four days after the rash appears. Once a person has had measles they are protected for life. If you think you have measles, it is important to speak to a doctor before visiting the doctor’s office so that the infection is not passed to others.
Measles is diagnosed by the symptoms and laboratory tests including a blood, urine and throat test. There is no specific treatment for measles. Most people can recover at home. Supportive care in hospital may be needed for severe infections. Vaccination is the best protection.
Measles vaccine is available as MMR or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine. Both vaccines are made up of weakened, live viruses. One dose provides protection in about 85 per cent of people, and two doses provide over 95 per cent.
Reactions to MMR and MMRV vaccine are generally mild and temporary and include pain and redness at the injection site, fever and rash. Risk of allergic reactions following immunization such as trouble breathing, rash, swelling in the throat and face may occur but are very rare and can be treated. For more information, see MMR vaccine fact sheet.
Women should not get pregnant for one month after receiving the MMR vaccine.
Canadian Immunization Guide, Evergreen Edition. Part 4 Active Vaccines: Measles. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada.
If you have come into contact with someone who is contagious with measles, this chart will help you determine the best way to protect yourself. As a precaution, everyone who has come into contact with a contagious measles case, regardless of what category you are in as described below, should monitor for symptoms. Symptoms include fever (over 103ºF), cough, runny nose, red and watery eyes and a rash on the face and body. If you develop symptoms, stay home, and call ahead to your physician’s office before visiting.
|I work in a healthcare setting, school, or daycare and have been exposed to someone who has measles.||Call Toronto Public Health at 416 338-7600 to discuss the specifics of your exposure and immunization status.||
You are at higher risk of spreading the infection to vulnerable populations.
|I am pregnant and have been exposed to someone who has measles.||Consult with your physician. Based on when you were born and your immunization records, you may already be protected.||Your doctor will confirm your status by reviewing your immunization records and/or giving you a blood test to check for measles immunity.|
|I was born prior to 1970.||Anyone born after January 1, 1970 who is not vaccinated and who have never had measles infection is at risk. People born before December 31, 1969 have likely developed immunity to the virus and are considered protected.||It is important to watch for signs and symptoms of measles (see above and fact sheet) and if you develop any symptoms, talk to your doctor.|
|I was born between 1970-1995.||Confirm you had measles vaccine, usually given as MMR (measles, mumps, rubella). If you had one or no shots of measles vaccine, get a first (or second) shot.||Two doses of measles vaccine provide almost 100 per cent protection. One shot provides 85 per cent to 90 per cent protection.|
|I was born after 1995.||Confirm you had two doses of MMR vaccine by checking your immunization records or contacting your physician.||In Ontario, all children are required to get two shots: the first dose is given on or just after the first birthday and a second shot between 18 months to six years of age.|
Call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 (TTY at 416-392-0658) or speak to your health care provider.