Measles Vaccine
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Measles Vaccine

(Rubeola Vaccine; MMR Vaccine-Measles)

En Español (Spanish Version)

What Is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. It is caused by the measles virus.

The virus is spread, typically in winter and spring, by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of an infected person. Less commonly, it can be spread by droplets in the air. Measles is contagious:

  • 1-2 days before the onset of symptoms
  • 3-5 days before the rash
  • 4 days after the appearance of the rash

Symptoms include:

  • Fever (often high)
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Cough
  • A distinctive rash

Symptoms usually begin within 8-12 days following exposure. The rash lasts about 4-6 days. Full recovery can take 7-10 days. In severe cases (or in people with immune disorders), serious brain infection or pneumonia can happen when recovering from measles. Permanent brain damage and death are very rare in the developed world.

Measles was once a common childhood illness. Now, there are fewer cases of measles in the United States. This is due to the measles vaccine. But, there have been outbreaks in recent years.

While, you are very unlikely to contract measles if properly immunized as a child, unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated people are at increased risk of measles if they:

  • Live in crowded and/or unsanitary conditions
  • Travel to less developed countries where measles is common
  • Have a compromised immune system (eg, HIV), even if previously vaccinated
  • Born after 1956 and never diagnosed with measles
  • Have only received an inactivated or killed vaccine prior to 1968 (Today's live vaccines are much more effective.)

Because measles is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Efforts are focused on relieving the symptoms, such as:

  • Gargling with warm salt water
  • Cool mist humidification
  • Lukewarm sponge baths
  • Plenty of fluids and fever-reducing medicines (that do not contain aspirin)— Note: Aspirin should never be used in children and teens who have a current or recent viral infection.
  • Vitamin A—This may be helpful for people who are deficient in vitamin A.

What Is the Measles Vaccine?

The measles vaccine consists of live measles viruses made in chicken embryo cells. The viruses found in the vaccine have been made harmless during the manufacturing process.

Although it is available as a single vaccine, it is normally given in combination with:

The vaccine is given under the skin.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

All children (with few exceptions) should receive the measles vaccine two times:

  • 12-15 months
  • 4-6 years (school entry)

The second dose can be given earlier, but the two doses must be separated by at least four weeks.

For catch-up vaccination, for those aged 18 years and who have not been vaccinated, two doses of MMR are given, separated by four weeks or longer.

Adults, aged 19-49 years, who have not been previously vaccinated, may need 1-2 doses. Those who work in healthcare or a school setting, are in a high-risk area, college students, those travelling internationally, and those who have been exposed or are at high risk of exposure to measles, should get two doses. For adults 50 years and older who have not been vaccinated, one dose is given to those considered at high risk.

In general, all older teens and adults should be vaccinated unless they meet one of the following criteria for measles immunity:

  • Documentation of two live attenuated measles vaccines after their first birthday and spaced at least four weeks apart
  • Documentation of doctor-diagnosed measles
  • Blood test indicated immunity to measles
  • Born before 1957

What Are the Risks Associated With the Measles Vaccine?

The majority of people who get the vaccine do not have any side effects. The most common side effects are a fever and a rash. Redness and swelling at the injection site may occur. Rare complications include:

  • Anaphylaxis—severe, life-threatening allergic reaction
  • Temporary thrombocytopenia—low platelet count which can cause bleeding
  • Seizures—in children predisposed to febrile seizures (convulsion during high fevers)

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Most children and teens should receive their vaccinations on schedule. However, for certain groups of people, the risks may outweigh the benefits:

  • People with immune system disorders (eg, AIDS)—If you have HIV and are doing well, you should consider getting the vaccine. Measles can be fatal if you have HIV.
  • Pregnant women—Avoid becoming pregnant for at least one month after getting the vaccine.
  • Previous severe allergic reaction to the vaccine or its components
  • Previous thrombocytopenia clearly related to the vaccine

If you have close contact with someone who is at risk for the measles, you should get the vaccine. This will help stop the virus from spreading.

In some cases, the vaccine should be delayed, such as:

  • Children who are sick with a fever—The vaccine can be given if you have a minor illness.
  • Recent immunoglobulin (eg, antibody) or corticosteroids therapy

What Other Ways Can Measles Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

If you have the measles, the main approach is to isolate you to stop the virus from spreading. For example, children with the measles should stay home until the virus is over.

For people who have been exposed to the virus and are not vaccinated, the immunoglobulin (IG) shot can be given. The shot contains antibodies against the virus. If it is within six days of exposure, the shot can protect you. IG is especially important for:

  • Children aged less than one year old
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have an immune system disorder

IG is not for those who have received at least one vaccination after 12 months of age, unless they have an immune system disorder.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

A case of the measles needs to be reported to public health authorities. If you think your child has the measles, call the doctor right away.

In the event of an outbreak, people who were potentially exposed within the past two weeks should be vaccinated.


Children’s Health Topics: Immunizations/Vaccines
American Academy of Pediatrics

National Immunization Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Baker CJ, Pickerling LK, Chilton L, et al; Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended adult immunization schedule: United States, 2011. Ann Intern Med. 1 Feb 2011. 154(3):168-173.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years —United States, 2011. MMWR. 2011;60(5).

1/31/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR. 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.

5/27/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Measles—United States, January—May 20, 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011 May 20 early online.

Last reviewed December 2010 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP

Last updated Updated: 5/27/2011

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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