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Measles (cont.)

Measles Prevention and Vaccination

Because of widespread vaccination of children, both kinds of measles occur much less often than in the past. However, recently there have been a number of well-publicized outbreaks in communities around the United States. In the United States in 2011, there were 222 rubeola measles cases in the United States, and 89% of those affected were unimmunized. Of the 222 infected, 70 were admitted to hospitals, but luckily there were no deaths. Outbreaks in the US continue, with up to 90% due to importation of measles from another country, including many European countries. For example, a major outbreak in France in 2011 involved more than 15,000 patients. In 2013, there were 11 U.S. outbreaks, and in 2014, there were 23 measles outbreaks in this country. In 2015, a multi-state outbreak originated in a California amusement park, likely due to an international traveler.

  • The most effective way to prevent measles is through immunization.
    • Children in the United States routinely receive the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine according to a published immunization schedule. This vaccine protects against both red measles and German measles. Vaccination is required for entry into school.
    • Doctors usually give the first dose of the measles immunization at 12-15 months of age.
    • Doctors give a second dose of the immunization when the child is 4 to 6 years old.
    • Although most children tolerate the vaccine well, a few may develop fever and even a rash from five to 12 days after the immunization. Adult women who get the vaccine may notice short-term aching in their joints.
    • The vaccine is about 95% effective in preventing measles of either type. That means that a small number of people who get the vaccine may still be able to get measles.
    • The vaccine should not be used in people with egg allergies.
    • Rarely, the measles vaccine can cause a measles-like illness. This is most common in people with weak immune systems, such as those with advanced HIV or those on chemotherapy. In such patients, the risk of vaccination should be balanced carefully against the risk of getting measles.
    • Women who may become pregnant should have a blood test to be sure they are immune to rubella ("German measles").
  • Both types of measles are still common in areas that do not offer immunization and in people who have not been immunized.
  • As with all other contagious illnesses, covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing and good hand-washing practices will help prevent the spread of the diseases.
  • A special immunization -- immune globulin -- may be necessary for certain high-risk people after they are exposed to measles. These include children younger than 1 year, children with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. If you have been exposed to measles, contact your physician to determine if you need immune globulin.

Measles Prognosis

  • Measles of either type usually clears up on its own in seven to 10 days. Once a person has had a case of the measles, they are almost always immune for life.
  • As discussed above, complications are rare but may be serious. This is the reason why vaccination is so universally recommended.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease


United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Measles -- United States, 2011." MMWR 61.15 Apr. 20, 2012: 253-257.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2016

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