More about Measles

Beth Husted, PharmD - Director of Pharmacy Practices

Although it was thought that measles was once eradicated due to the development of effective vaccines, this disease, among others has reappeared. In the state of Ohio, a measles outbreak occurred in 2014 which was thought to be linked to groups of unvaccinated individuals. With the recent reports of other active measles cases linked to Disney Land, it is important to understand what measles is and how this virus can be easily prevented.

Q: What is measles?

A: Measles, also called rubeola, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory tract. The disease occurs most often in the winter and spring months. Prior to the development of the vaccine, it was considered a nearly universal childhood disease. Although it is considered a vaccine-preventable disease in the United States, measles is still common worldwide and often fatal in third world countries. Measles outbreaks are often traced back to travel abroad and low vaccination rates. For children under the age of 5 and adults greater than 20 years old, measles complications are more common and can include pneumonia, brain damage, seizures and deafness.


Q: What are the symptoms? How quickly do they appear?

A: The symptoms of measles are very broad and can often first present in the same manner as the flu virus.  The first symptom that develops is a fever, which can get very high, up to 103°F to 105°F.  Other symptoms that follow are cough, runny nose, and inflammation/redness of the eyes.  In addition, diarrhea, anorexia and ear infections can also be associated with measles.  However, the defining symptom of measles is a rash that starts at the hairline, spreads to the face and neck and down the rest of the body. This rash first appears as punctate blue-white spots on a bright red mucosal membrane, which in itself is diagnostic for measles. This distinct rash appears 1 to 2 days before or after the generalized measles rash, which is described as being tiny, red spots. The measles rash usually lasts about 5 to 6 days and fades in the same order that it appeared (head to toe).

Once exposed to the virus, measles has an incubation period of 10 to 12 days.  The next phase is characterized by the high fever, which lasts 2 to 4 days followed by the other generalized symptoms listed. The measles rash usually appears 2 to 4 days after the fever, approximately 14 days after first exposure to the virus.



Q: How is measles spread?

A: Measles is very contagious! Almost everyone who has not been vaccinated with the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) shot will get measles if they are exposed to the virus. The measles virus is spread through respiratory droplets, which means the virus can be spread through the air. When an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes the measles virus can be spread. Even if the measles rash is not present, the virus is still contagious.  Generally speaking, the measles virus has a short life in the air or on other objects but is still spread from person to person in close proximity very easily.


Measles vaccination overview:

The best way to prevent the measles is to ensure that vaccine records are up to date!  The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine, if administered within the recommended vaccine schedule, will prevent against the measles and other covered diseases.  The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends the following:

  • First MMR dose for children ≥ 12 months
  • Second MMR dose for children ages 4 to 6 years old
  • First MMR dose for adults  born ≥ 1957
  • Second MMR dose for adults born ≥ 1957ANDat high risk for exposure (health care workers, college students, international travelers, etc.)

It is thought that persons born before 1957 have been exposed to the measles virus and are immune. You should not receive the MMR vaccine if you are pregnant, have a severe reaction to neomycin, have a fever, or have a disease or are on medications affecting your immune system.

There is no need to make an appointment to get a vaccine, but it is a good idea to call the pharmacy before coming in to make sure that the vaccine is in stock.  In most cases, you can walk in at your convenience and receive an immunization after completing some simple paperwork and reviewing your information with the pharmacist!


Other immunization information:

There are many vaccines that can be administered by a pharmacist!  Recently, immunization laws have been expanded and pharmacists, with an appropriate protocol in place, can administer the flu vaccine without a prescription to those ≥ 7 years of age. 

For all other CDC-recommended immunizations, a pharmacist can administer to those ≥13 years old without a prescription and to ages 7 to 12 years old with a written prescription. Please ask your Ritzman pharmacist regarding questions you may have about immunizations and if you are able to receive them at the pharmacy versus making an appointment with a primary care provider.