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What is it

Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease that is1 normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract, and can then spread through the body.1

Who is at risk

Immunization is the best way to protect you and your children from measles.2 Measles was once a common childhood disease. Thanks to immunization, your risk of getting measles is very low. However it is still possible for cases to occur in Canada since measles is common in other parts of the world.2
The measles vaccination is typically given in childhood in 2 doses, which confers life time protection.2 Measles is very contagious and can be easily transmitted when you have contact with someone who is infected. If you or your children have not been vaccinated and have never had measles, you’re at risk of infection.2

Travellers who have not been vaccinated may bring measles into Canada, which could result in outbreaks in communities where children have not been vaccinated.2

What are the symptoms

Symptoms typically appear 7 to 18 days after exposure to the measles virus.3 Initial symptoms include:3

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability (feeling cranky or in a bad mood)
  • Appearance of small, white spots inside the mouth and throat

A red blotchy rash may develop on the face and spread down the body after 3 to 7 days.3 Most people recover fully from measles within 2 to 3 weeks. However, measles can be especially dangerous for infants and those with weakened immune systems.3

How is it spread

Measles caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family4. The virus can live in your nose, mouth, eyes and on your skin. It spreads very easily, and is highly contagious.5

The measles virus can be transmitted:5

  • Through direct contact
  • Through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • Through objects that were recently exposed to infected mucous or saliva, such as shared utensils, cups, tissues

The virus can be spread to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appears body.3 The virus is most often spread when people first get sick or before they know they have measles.3

How is it prevented

Measles can be prevented through receiving 2 doses of the measles-containing vaccine.6, 7, 8, 9,10

The measles vaccine is part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) immunization. These combination vaccinations are given to children at 12 to 15 months of age, and again at 18 months or 4 to 6 years of age.7, 8, 9, 10 The time at which the vaccine is given depends on your province or territory’s immunization schedule.6

The measles vaccine is effective and free. Side effects of the vaccination are typically very mild and tend to go away within a few days.6

For those planning to travel abroad, visit your healthcare provider at least 6 weeks before you leave to discuss if the measles vaccine is appropriate for you and your children.6

How is it treated

No specific treatment is available for measles; most people fully recover within 2 to 3 weeks.11 If you have measles, you should stay at home until at least 4 days after the rash appeared to help limit the spread of the virus.11 Medical advice is recommended for the onset of symptoms. For further information regarding measles and immunization, please speak with your healthcare provider.


  1. WHO. Measles Fact Sheet. (2017)
  2. Government of Canada. Risks of Measles. (2015)
  3. Government of Canada. Symptoms of Measles. (2016)
  4. Government of Canada. For Healthcare Professionals: Measles. (2016)
  5. Government of Canada. Causes of Measles. (2015)
  6. Government of Canada. Prevention of Measles. (2016)
  7. GlaxoSmithKline Priorix-Tetra MMRV PM. (2017)
  8. Merck ProQuad MMRV PM. (2017)
  9. GlaxoSmithKline Priorix MMR PM. (2015)
  10. 13. Merck M-M-R II PM. (2017)
  11. Government of Canada. Treatment of Measles. (2016)