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Immunizations: Measles

Measles is a disease caused by the measles virus. Measles can be dangerous, especially for infants and young children.

One out of every four people who get measles in the United States will be hospitalized. One or two out of every 1,000 children in the United States who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best care.

 

Measles can cause serious health problems, such as:

  • Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.
  • Brain damage caused by swelling.
  • Deafness.

A vaccine can prevent measles

You can protect yourself and the people around you from measles. The best protection against measles is the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Two doses of the measles vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles. The vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles.

Learn more about the measles vaccine

Measles 101

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. The virus easily spreads from person to person. It can spread through coughing and sneezing. People who are infected can spread measles to others four days before, and up to four days after, the rash appears. The measles virus can stay in the air for up to two hours after a sick person coughs or sneezes.

You can get measles by breathing contaminated air or touching an infected surface, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. That means you can catch measles nearly anywhere, such as the grocery store, movie theaters, or on a bus or plane. A vaccine is your best protection.

Symptoms of measles start showing seven to 14 days after getting infected. The first symptoms of measles may include:

  • Fever, sometimes over 104º Fahrenheit.
  • Runny nose.
  • Cough.
  • Red, watery eyes.
  • Sore throat.
  • Tiredness.
 

These early symptoms are followed by a rash that spreads over the body. The rash tends to appear three to five days after the first symptoms.

Measles can be serious in all age groups. However, there are several groups that are more likely to suffer from measles complications:

  • Children younger than 5 years of age
  • Adults older than 20 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia or HIV infection

Common complications can include ear infections and diarrhea. Severe complications include pneumonia (infection of the lungs), encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and death.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of measles.

The only way to diagnose measles is through appropriate testing. If you think you have measles, it’s important to see a doctor for a nose and throat swab and a blood test.

There is no specific treatment for measles.

If you have measles, it’s important to stay home so you don’t spread measles to other people. Call your doctor if you are concerned about your symptoms. Medical care could help relieve symptoms and address complications, such as bacterial infections. Your doctor can tell you when it’s safe to be around other people again.

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Two doses of the vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses for:

  • Children.
    • First dose at 12–15 months of age.
    • Second dose at 4–6 years of age, before entering school.
  • College students.
  • Children and adults who Plan for Travel internationally.
  • Health care personnel.

The CDC recommends one dose of the measles vaccine for:

  • Adults born during or after 1957 who haven’t had measles.
  • Adults who haven’t been fully vaccinated against measles.

Find out if you and your children are up to date on the measles vaccine. Check our Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Wisconsin Immunization Registry. If you’re not up to date, call your doctor, pharmacy, or local health department to schedule the vaccine.

If you’re worried about cost, your family may be eligible for free vaccines. Read about our Vaccines For Children and Vaccines For Adults programs.

Just for health care providers

Measles is a communicable disease. Health care providers must report cases of measles.

Measles is a Wisconsin Disease Surveillance Category I disease

Report it right away to the patient’s local public health department. Call as soon as you identify a confirmed or suspected case. The health department then notifies the state epidemiologist.

Within 24 hours, submit a case report through one of the following:

Read more about required disease reporting in Wisconsin.

Case reporting and public health guidelines

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Last revised January 3, 2023