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What is Measles?

Measles is a virus that’s very contagious. Most people recover from infection, but measles can have serious complications and lead to long-term health problems. Since the widespread use of the measles vaccine, measles infection is very rare.

Is the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine safe?

The MMR vaccine is safe. Most people will have no side effects. Serious side effects from the vaccine are very rare. Talk to your health care provider about your immunizations. This vaccine is free for people who live, work or attend school in Ontario.

How can I get measles?

Measles spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes, spreading droplets that contain the virus into the air. Less commonly, particles from an infected person can stay in the air for long periods of time and infect others in the same room. Measles is one of the easiest viruses to spread from person to person. It is rarely seen in Canada now due to high vaccination rates.

What are the symptoms?

Child with measles rash

Symptoms appear 7 to 21 days after exposure to a person with measles and include:
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny Nose
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Red rash, first on the face and then moving down the body, legs, and arms. The rash usually appears 3 to 7 days after the start of symptoms.
  • Small, red, irregular spots that develop on the inside of the cheeks, near the back teeth. Each spot will have a whitish or bluish center. These spots are referred to as “Koplik’s spots.”

When is someone with measles contagious?

People infected with measles can spread it to others 4 days before to 4 days after the rash appears.

Is there treatment?

There is no treatment for measles.  Treatments are given to help relieve the symptoms of measles. Severe infections are often treated in hospital. Most people can recover at home.

If you think you or your child have measles, call your health care provider or walk-in clinic before visiting the office. This gives the office time to prepare for your arrival, so the infection isn’t passed on to others at the office.

How long is it contagious?

Usually about 4 days before rash appears, to 4 days after the onset of rash. Patients whose immune system is compromised may be contagious for the whole time they’re ill.

What are the possible complications?

  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (an infection of the brain)
  • Blindness
  • Pregnant women may experience a miscarriage or give birth prematurely
  • Death

How do I prevent infection?

Vaccination remains the best protection against measles. You need to ensure you got two doses of the vaccine to be fully protected from getting measles. Those who are at the greatest risk of measles exposure are people travelling to destinations outside of North America. Please speak to your health care provider to ensure you have two doses of MMR before travelling.  In Windsor-Essex (and all of Ontario) children are routinely given two measles vaccines.

Adults born before 1970 are generally presumed to have acquired natural immunity to measles; however, some of these individuals may be susceptible. As per the current publicly funded immunization schedule, all Ontarians, regardless of date of birth, are eligible for two doses of measles-containing vaccine based on the health care provider’s clinical judgment and the needs of the patient.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

Those at risk of measles include:

  • Those without two doses of measles vaccination
  • Infants under the age of 12 months

How do I stop the spread?

If you think you have measles, call your doctor and the local Health Unit as soon as possible. You need to stay home and have no visitors until 4 days after the appearance of the rash. Practice good hand hygiene, avoid sharing drinking glasses or utensils, and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or forearm.

What can I do if I come into contact with someone who has measles?

If someone who is unvaccinated comes into contact with someone who has measles, there are two ways to prevent infection. First, they can get measles vaccine, which can prevent infection if given within 72 hours of contact with an infected person. Second, they can get an immunoglobulin injection if this is done within 6 days of coming into contact with an infected person. Immunoglobulin is a blood product containing antibodies that help prevent infection. It is usually given to people who are at risk of severe complications from measles, such as infants, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system.  It is important to speak to a health care provider as soon as possible in these circumstances.  They will make recommendations based on your personal health history and circumstances.

Health Care Providers

Suspected cases are reportable to the Health Unit immediately by telephone.  Exclusions from groups including school and or work recommended since measles is a highly communicable illness.  Health care providers, schools and daycares are encouraged to call and speak with our infectious diseases department if there are any suspicions of measles. Exclusions can be discussed and directed by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

Measles Reporting Form

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