This year, Minnesota has seen its largest measles outbreak in two decades. There have been 79 diagnosed cases, as of July 13, 2017. Nearly 90% of those cases have come from Hennepin County. (Read more about the outbreak.)
University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic medical director Kathryn (Kacey) Justesen, MD, answers some frequently asked questions about measles.
What is measles?
Measles is a very contagious infection caused by a virus.
What are symptoms of measles?
The most common symptoms include:
- fever (usually the first symptom)
- runny nose
- sore throat
- rash (which appears two to three days after fever)
The rash starts as small red spots—usually appearing first on the face, then moving down the body. The small spots may become so numerous that they flow into one another and look like large red splotches. Some people also get tiny white spots inside their mouth.
If you have symptoms of measles, what should you do?
Call your doctor’s office! They may recommend you be seen in the clinic.
Try to avoid contact with other people—you can spread measles to others by coughing or sneezing near them. Wear a mask if you can.
Is there a treatment for measles?
There isn’t any medication that will make measles go away. Measles usually last about a week and goes away by itself. Treating symptoms of measles with medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be helpful.
Please note: If you have symptoms of measles, it’s important to call your clinic to find out if you need to be seen.
What can you do to protect yourself from measles?
Get vaccinated! Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles.
If you have not been vaccinated, stay away from anyone who has measles or symptoms of measles.
Why is it important to get vaccinated for measles?
While measles may go away without causing any long-term harm, it can lead to hospitalization and even death. Complications from measles can include seizures, deafness, and brain damage. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from complications.
What are the current vaccine recommendations for measles?
Children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine: the first dose around 12 to 15 months, and the second dose between 4 and 6 years.
With the recent outbreak in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health is recommending an accelerated vaccine schedule for children. To keep up-to-date with current recommendations in Minnesota, visit www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/measles.
Does herd immunity really work?
Yes! Herd immunity works when most people in a community receive the vaccine. The more people who get vaccinated, the fewer people get sick.
If you cannot be vaccinated, what should you do during an outbreak?
If you are unable to get the vaccine, it is important that you avoid anyone who has measles or symptoms of measles.
Pregnant women cannot get the vaccine, so if you are considering pregnancy you should check with your doctor to see if you need the vaccine before attempting to get pregnant.
Children do not typically receive the first dose of the MMR vaccine before they are 12 months. However, if they are traveling internationally or in an area experiencing an outbreak, infants may receive the vaccine as young as six months.
You can contact your clinic for more information about risks and prevention.
Is the measles (or MMR) vaccine safe?
Yes, it’s very safe! The risk of adverse reactions is extremely small.
Read the MMR Vaccine Information Statement to learn more.
Do vaccines cause autism?
No. There have been numerous scientific studies proving that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Learn more about vaccine safety.