What to know about the measles outbreak

As of April 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 695 cases of measles in 22 states. The following is some information about measles that addresses common questions about the illness.

What is measles?

Measles is a very contagious infectious disease that is caused by a virus that lives in the nose and throat.

What are the symptoms of measles?

The symptoms of measles are high fever (over 101°F), red watery eyes, cough, runny nose and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

How can I prevent getting measles?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent getting or exposing others to measles. The measles vaccine, known as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, is safe and effective.

People should get the MMR vaccine if they haven't been vaccinated or don't know if they got the vaccine before. If you aren't sure if you've been vaccinated, you should try to find your vaccine records. If you're unable to find your records and are unsure whether or not you've been fully vaccinated, you should discuss your risk factors with your physician. The MMR vaccine is safe, and there is no harm in getting another dose even if you may be already immune to measles, mumps or rubella.

Children should be vaccinated at 12-15 months of age and again at 4-6 years of age.

Individuals at high risk for measles are persons attending college or other post-high school educational institutions, persons with young children or who work in child care facilities, persons working in health care facilities and international travelers.

Why should I get vaccinated?

Measles, mumps and rubella are viral diseases that can have serious consequences, including ear infection and diarrhea, as well as more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and encephalitis. Vaccination also helps prevent the transmission of this very contagious disease to others, some of whom may be unable to be vaccinated or too young to receive the vaccine.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Contact your doctor to get an MMR vaccine. Some pharmacies or clinics also offer free or low-cost vaccinations.

What should I do if I've been exposed to measles?

You would typically be notified by the Department of Public Health if a measles exposure occurred. The Department of Public Health would provide you with specific instructions, which will depend on whether you've been vaccinated or not.

If you've been exposed to measles, immediately call your doctor to let them know. Unless instructed to do so by the Department of Public Health or your physician, do not visit the emergency department.

Your doctor will determine if you are immune to measles based on your vaccination record, age or laboratory results. Your doctor may make special arrangements to evaluate you to avoid exposing others in the medical office who may be at risk.

What should I do if I've been told I have measles?

You will be provided instructions by your physician and the Department of Public Health. You should stay home to avoid spreading measles to other people. Ask your doctor when it is safe to return to normal activities away from home.

Other steps you should take:

  • Avoid contact with children and persons who may have problems with their immune system, especially those who may not have had their MMR vaccine.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and properly dispose of the tissue.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid sharing drinks or utensils.
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces such as toys, doorknobs, tables and counters.
  • Call your doctor if you are concerned about symptoms.

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