What is measles and how is it spread?

Measles is an infection that can cause a rash, fever and cough. It is caused by an infection with measles virus.

Measles virus spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes, spreading droplets that contain the virus into the air. The virus can live on surfaces (e.g., door knobs, shopping carts, utensils, etc.) and can also live up to 2 hours in the air in an enclosed area. If people breathe in the contaminated air or touch infected surfaces, they can become infected.

People infected with measles can spread it to others 5 days before he or she gets a rash. It can spread for about 4 days after the rash is gone.

Measles can cause long-term problems with the lungs, ears or brain. These problems can be dangerous. People can die from measles and the problems it cause.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

In Canada, measles is relatively rare, thanks to high vaccination rates across the country. Cases of measles are seen in out of country travelers who are not vaccinated and upon their return expose other people to the disease.

Infants under 12 months of age, children, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system who have not been vaccinated against measles are at greater risk of measles and its complications.

Others who are also at risk include:

  • Those who are born in or after 1970 and have not received the two doses of the measles vaccine [Measles- Mumps- Rubella (MMR), or Measles- Mumps- Rubella- Varicella (MMRV)].
  • Those who have not had a confirmed case of measles.
  • Those who have traveled to areas where there is a measles outbreak.
  • Those who have had contact with a confirmed case of measles.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

Signs and symptoms can appear 7 to 18 days after exposure to a person with measles and include:

  • High Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny Nose
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Blotchy red rash, first on the face and then moves down the body. The rash usually appears 3 to 7 days after the start of symptoms.
  • Tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth and throat, but are not always there. These spots are called ‘Koplik’s spots’.

Is there treatment?

There is no specific treatment for measles.  Treatments are given to help relieve the symptoms of measles (e.g., pain relievers to reduce fever). Severe measles infections are often treated in hospitals.

Most people can recover at home by drinking plenty of fluids, eating healthy foods, and getting lots of rest. Doctors may give Vitamin A to some children with measles.

A person who has measles is advised to stay home, and is not to attend day care, school, or work since measles is very contagious.

What should I do if I think I have measles?

If you or a family member are showing signs and symptoms of measles, please call your health care provider or walk-in clinic on the phone 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.

Measles Vaccine: Immunization is the best prevention

The best way to protect against measles is for all individuals to receive two doses of the measles vaccine (MMR or MMRV vaccine). This vaccine is safe and free for people who live, work, and attend school in Ontario.  You can get the vaccine from your health care provider.

Ontario’s immunization schedule recommends:

  • The first dose of MMR be given between 12 to 15 months of age.
  • The second dose (MMRV) is generally given between 4 to 6 years of age.
  • In the case of a confirmed outbreak, a second dose of measles containing vaccine may be given as soon as 4 weeks (28 days) after the first dose.

Please contact the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) for any questions about the immunization schedule.

Please report all vaccines for you and your family to the Health Unit’s online reporting tool, ICON, by visiting

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

Call your Health Care Provider immediately and let him or her know that you have been exposed to someone who has the measles. Your doctor will determine if you are at risk of developing measles (e.g., have not received the 2 doses of the measles vaccine), and advise you on next steps.

The measles vaccine or an Immune Globulin (Ig) treatment may be given to help reduce your risk of developing measles.

I am a Health Care Provider (HCP), and I have a suspected or diagnosed case of measles, what should I do?

HCPs are required to report suspected cases to the WECHU immediately and complete the Measles Investigation and Reporting form  the SAME day as the initial patient visit. For support or consultation, please call 519-258-2146 ext. 1420.

 Also, be sure to check out the updates and alerts website section for more recent HCP updates.

Additional resources for HPCs:

Canadian Immunization Guide: Measles

To learn more about Measles, visit