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How Can You Prevent the Spread of Measles?

  • Medical Author:
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Ask a Doctor

I know someone who was just diagnosed with measles, and I have a baby boy who is too young to have had the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine). Thank God, I haven’t seen the person with measles for several weeks, so I haven’t been exposed in that way. But it has made me worried. How can I prevent measles from spreading to my family?

Doctor’s Response

In general, both children and adults who have a fever and a rash should contact their physician. People who encounter an infected person should also be evaluated to see if they need special measures to keep them from getting sick. If you are diagnosed with the disease, stay at home, wash your hands frequently, and generally avoid contact with people who are not infected.

The most effective way to prevent measles, however, 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.
  • Many recent studies indicate that those with egg allergies may now get the MMR vaccine.
  • 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 unimmunized people.
    • 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 a measles exposure. These include children younger than 1 year, children with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. If exposed to measles, contact your physician to determine if you need immune globulin.

For more information, read our full medical article on measles.

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Reviewed on 5/3/2019
Sources: References
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