What is measles?
Measles is a very contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus. It is more severe in infants and in adults over the age of 20.
Measles is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of measles?
- high fever
- cough and runny nose
- watery, red, and irritated eyes
- sensitivity to light
- small, white spots in the mouth
- a red, blotchy rash that starts on the head and face, then spreads to the rest of the body
Measles can lead to serious complications such as:
- pneumonia (lung infection)
- encephalitis (swelling/inflammation of the brain)
- middle ear infections
Measles infection during pregnancy can result in a high risk of premature labour, miscarriage, stillbirth and low birth weight infants. Pregnant women should talk to their health care provider if they have been exposed to measles. Children with measles should be watched closely since it can lead to serious complications.
Make arrangements to see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is measles spread?
The measles virus spreads easily from person to person through droplets in the air. It is passed from an infected person to others through coughing, sneezing and even talking. The measles virus can remain active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours. In Canada, exposure to measles should be taken very seriously.
Usually the time it takes to show symptoms after getting infected is 14 days, but can be as long as 21 days.
Measles is contagious from four days before any signs of illness until four days after the onset of the rash. Measles usually lasts about two weeks.
How is measles treated?
There is no specific treatment for measles. Supportive care in hospital might be needed for severe infections.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is measles prevented?
The best protection against measles is vaccination. In Ontario, the measles vaccine is combined with the mumps and rubella vaccine. It is called the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The MMR vaccine is recommended for all children, which gives them a lifelong protection against measles.
Provincial law states that all children going to school in Ontario must be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, unless they are excused for medical or philosophical reasons.
Adults born before 1970 are considered to have natural immunity to the measles because they were exposed to the virus earlier in life.
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.