Measles is a serious respiratory disease (in the lungs and breathing tubes). It causes a rash and fever. It is very contagious. In rare cases, it can be deadly. Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of unvaccinated people will get it, if exposed.

How does measles spread?

Measles spreads when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, up to two hours after that person is gone. And you can catch measles from an infected person even before they have a measles rash. Almost everyone who has not had the MMR shot will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles starts with a fever that can get very high. Some of the other symptoms that may occur are:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Rash of tiny, red spots (starts on head)
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infection

What's the best protection from measles?

Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. The vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend children receive their first dose of the MMR vaccine when they are between 12-15 months old, and a second dose between age 4-6 years. Older individuals who have not been vaccinated or show no signs of immunity should get vaccinated as soon as possible. (There’s a different schedule for infants 6-11 months and children 12 months and older traveling outside the U.S.)