Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. Measles is an airborne disease which spreads through droplets from the nose and throat of those infected.
Measles was widespread in North America. It has become rarer because of the effectiveness of immunisation campaigns. Even today, however, 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.
The first symptoms of measles are the following:
- High fever
- Runny nose
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- General discomfort
Subsequently, a rash develops on the face and then the body.
It may take 7 to 14 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
If you have been in contact with someone with measles, contact your doctor or your CLSC immediately. It will then be possible to check whether you can receive a vaccine or an injection of antibodies, meaning a type of protein, against measles.
- The injection of antibodies provides immediate protection if given within 7 days after contact with a contagious person. The antibody injection is recommended for:
- Pregnant women who have never received the measles vaccine or who have never had measles
- Babies younger than a year old
- People with a weak immune system
- The vaccine is intended for all other people who have been in contact with someone with measles and 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. However, first call 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.
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:
- Rest in bed
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take medication for fever or discomfort
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 women who have measles can be more severely affected. They are also more at risk of having a miscarriage or giving birth prematurely.
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 for a very brief period.
Protection and Prevention
Vaccination is the best way to be protected against measles.
The measles vaccine is a combined vaccine, meaning that it protects against several diseases at the same time. Components of the vaccine vary depending on the person’s age.
According to the Québec immunisation schedule, children must receive the vaccine at 12 months and at 18 months of age. 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 single appointment.
Anyone that has never received the measles vaccine, or that has never had the disease, should get vaccinated.
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 or CLSC, or contact Info-Santé 811.
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.
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. During an outbreak, 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: October 26, 2015