Disease Control & Prevention
Disease (Illness)
Communicable Diseases

What Is Measles?

Measles is a serious disease caused by a virus that spreads easily from person to person. Measles causes fever, rash, and other complications. You may have heard measles called rubeola, the 10-day, hard or red measles). Measles is not rubella which is sometimes called the German or 3-day measles.

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What are the Symptoms of Measles?

  • Symptoms start 7-18 days (usually 10 days) after a person has been in contact (exposed) with someone with the measles and last for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • The illness starts with a high fever greater than 101 degrees followed by a runny nose, watery red sensitive eyes, and a cough.
  • Tiny, blue-white spots usually appear in the mouth during the first few days,
  • A rash appears 14 days after exposure. The measles rash is a raised red rash that starts at the hairline, moves to the face and spreads down the body and out to the arms and legs. The rash usually lasts 4 to 7.
  • People with measles are contagious for 4 days before and at least 4 days after the rash begins.

What about Complications of Measles Disease?

  • Complications occur most frequently in children younger than 5 years and adults older than 20 years.
  • Complications of measles may include ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and rarely, death.
  • Measles in pregnant women can cause miscarriages or premature delivery.

How is Measles Spread?

  • Measles is spread from person to person. The virus that causes measles is found in droplets and secretions from the nose and throat of a person with measles.
  • Measles virus can stay in the air of a closed room for up to two hours after a person with measles was in the room.

Who is at Risk of Getting Sick with the Measles?

  • Infants less than 1 year of age who are too young to have been immunized.
  • Any person who has not had measles vaccine for any reason and has not had a history of having had measles disease that has been confirmed by a lab test.
  • Adults who were vaccinated from 1963 -1967 with an inactivated vaccine and have not been re-vaccinated with a live attenuated vaccine.
  • Persons who received immune globulin near the time that they received the measles vaccine.
  • Persons with weakened immune systems, infants, and pregnant women are at increased risk for severe measles.

How do I know if I am Immune?

You are considered immune if:

A) You were born before January 1, 1957 (except for health care workers who should consider receiving at least one dose of measles-containing vaccine), or
B) You have documentation of health care provider-diagnosed measles, or
C) You have laboratory evidence of immunity to measles, or You already had two doses of MMR or one dose of MMR plus a second dose of measles vaccine.
D) You have written documentation of adequate vaccination to measles that includes the date of administration (self-reported doses or parental history of vaccination alone are not acceptable).
  • Preschool children: one MMR given after 12 months of age
  • K12 and adults at high risk (i.e., post-high school educational and college students, healthcare personnel, and international travelers): 2 MMR, with the first dose given on or after the first birthday and with a minimum of 28 days between the first and the second dose
  • All other adults born during or after 1957: history of having received at least one dose of live measles virus vaccine on or after the first birthday**

**Persons who were vaccinated with an inactivated vaccine that was available from 1963-1967, and have not been re-vaccinated, may however be at risk for measles.

NOTE: Washington State Law requires that children receive a 2nd (MMR) Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccination before entry into Kindergarten. A second MMR dose has been required for school aged children since 1992. Many colleges and schools of higher education now require proof of a second MMR for school entry.

Are there Certain Individuals who are at Increased Risk for Measles who should be Vaccinated?

Yes, these individuals include:

  • Persons attending college and other post-high school educational institutions
  • Persons working in medical facilities or hospitals
  • International travelers or cruise ship passengers
  • Women of childbearing age
  • Any person who has not had measles vaccine and has not had a history of having had measles disease that has been confirmed by a lab test.

Are there individuals who should not receive the Measles (MMR) Vaccine?

Individuals should not receive the MMR if they:

  • Have had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine component or following a prior dose
  • Are pregnant
  • Are immunosupressed
  • Have moderate to severe acute illness
  • Have recently received a blood product
  • Studies have demonstrated the safety of MMR in egg-allergic children
  • Is being treated for cancer
  • Has gotten another vaccine in the past four (4) weeks

What can I do to Prevent Measles?

  • Make sure family members are fully vaccinated.  Washington State law requires that all children have a record of immunization against measles for entry into school or a child day care center or preschool.
  • The measles vaccine is combined with other vaccines.  The vaccine most often given is the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine.
  • The 1st MMR vaccine is given to children when they are 12 to 15 months of age. A second dose of MMR is required for entry into kindergarten or 6th grade (depending on year of birth).
  • People diagnosed with measles should limit their contact with others until at least 4 full days have passed since the time when their rash first appeared.
  • An individual who is exposed to someone who has measles should contact their health care provider immediately. If they have not been vaccinated, measles vaccine can help prevent infection if it is given within three days (72 hours) of exposure.
  • Immune globulin, when given within six days of exposure, may help prevent infection for those who cannot receive the MMR vaccine.
for more information
  • Measles (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Measles (Washington State Department of Health)

    Marianne Remy

    Thurston County Immunization Program



This page last updated: 04/29/17