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Measles

General notice

Measles is present in other parts of the world. In Québec, since an outbreak in 2019, cases have been declared occasionally and a few cases have been reported since the beginning of 2024. For each measles case reported in Québec, a public health investigation is conducted in order to identify people who may have been exposed to the measles virus. To learn more, go to the page Measles outbreak.

Description

Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. Measles is an airborne disease which spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs, sneezes, or speaks..

Measles was widespread in North America. It has become rarer because of the effectiveness of immunisation campaigns. Even today, Québec sometimes experiences outbreaks of measles.

Measles remains one of the major causes of death among young children globally. Yet there is a safe and effective vaccine against this disease.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of measles are the following:

  • High fever
  • Nasal congestion with runny nose
  • Cough
  • Conjunctivitis (red watery eyes)
  • Eyes sensitive to light
  • General discomfort

Subsequently, a rash develops on the face and then the body.

It may take 10 to 14 days (exceptionally up to 21 days) between exposure to the measles virus and onset of symptoms. This is called the incubation period. A person begins to be contagious four days before the rash appears and can remain contagious up to 4 days after onset of the disease. Measles last 1 to 2 weeks.

Measles can lead to many complications.

When to consult

If you have been in contact with someone with measles

Some individuals may be recommended a measles vaccine or antibody injection.

  • The injection of antibodies provides immediate protection if given within 7 days after contact with a contagious person. The antibody injection may be recommended for:
    • Pregnant people who are not adequaly vaccinated against measles or who have never had measles
    • Babies younger than a year old
    • People with a weak immune system
  • The vaccine is intended for other people aged 6 months and older who are not considered protected against measles and who have been in contact with someone who is contagious. It can be effective in preventing measles if given within 72 hours of contact.

If you show symptoms

If you show symptoms of measles, you should consult a doctor promptly. Beforehand, you have to contact your health clinic or your healthcare facility to inform them of your arrival and of your health condition. Given that measles is highly contagious, they will advise you on precautions to take before showing up. This way, you will avoid transmitting the disease to close contacts or other people when you get to the clinic.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment against measles. Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself against this disease.

If you have measles, you must stay home and do the following:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids, like water
  • Take medication for fever or discomfort

Complications

Complications of measles may include:

  • Ear infection (5 to 9% of cases)
  • Pneumonia (1 to 5% of cases)
  • Convulsions (the body stiffens and muscles contract in a jerky and involuntary manner)
  • Permanent brain damage (1 in 1,000)
  • Death (1 in 3,000)

People most at risk of complications

Complications are most common in the following:

  • People with an immune system that is weakened by treatment against another disease or by a serious illness such as leukemia
  • Babies younger than a year old

Pregnant people who have measles can be more severely affected. They are also more at risk of having a miscarriage or giving birth prematurely.

Transmission

Measles is a contagious disease. It is possible to get infected and to catch the disease without being in direct contact with someone with the disease. For instance, it could be enough to be in the same room as a contagious person, even during a short period of time.

Protection and prevention

Preventing transmission

Children and adults who are sick should stay home from school and work and avoid being in contact with young children and pregnant people. They should stay home until four days after the rash appears.

Vaccination

Vaccination is the best way to be protected against measles.

The measles vaccine is a combined vaccine, which means that it protects against several diseases at the same time. Components of the vaccine vary depending on the person’s age.

According to Québec’s immunization schedule, children are given the vaccine at 12 months and 18 months. The vaccine thus protects them adequately at a time when they are most at risk of catching measles. It is therefore imperative that you book an appointment as close as possible to the date on which your child turns one. Avoid postponing the measles vaccine, even if it means your child must receive several vaccines in that appointment.

Anyone that has never received the measles vaccine, or that has never had the disease, should get vaccinated.

Since free vaccination was introduced in Canada, the number of cases of measles has decreased by almost 97%.

Precautions for travellers

Measles exists in many countries.  Before travelling, it is advised that you have your vaccination record and that of your children checked by a doctor or nurse. To know if you are adequately protected against measles, check with a travel health clinic, your doctor, a CLSC or contact Info-Santé 811. Thus, you will know if you are adequately protected against measles.

Procedure for getting vaccinated

Under the Québec Immunisation Program, anyone can get vaccinated against measles for free.

See the Québec Immunisation Program page to know the procedure for getting vaccinated.

You can schedule an appointment on the website Clic Santé This hyperlink will open in a new window.. Measles vaccination is available at local points of service in several regions of Québec.

People at risk

Anyone not protected against measles or that has not had the disease can catch it.

Special conditions

Measles is a reportable disease.

When laboratory staff and health professionals detect a case of measles, they must inform public health authorities.

Measles in the classroom: What to do

Should a school report a case of measles, and depending on how the illness evolves, non-vaccinated individuals may be asked to stay home until the outbreak has ended. Such individuals may return to school upon providing valid proof of vaccination. This measure is intended to protect the health of unprotected individuals and their communities.

Last update: February 28, 2024

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