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What you need to know about measles

About measles…

What is measles?

Measles is a contagious disease caused by a virus.  Measles is a serious illness that that can cause lifelong brain damage or even death. It can also cause pneumonia, convulsions and deafness.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles usually starts with a fever, a runny nose and cough. Many children also have red, watery eyes. After a few days, a rash of small red spots appears – first on the face, then spreading to the arms, chest and legs. Bright light may bother your child's eyes. Measles usually lasts for 1 to 2 weeks.

How can my child catch measles?

Measles spreads very easily and very quickly through sneezing and coughing. It is highly contagious –in fact, most children who are exposed to measles will probably get sick if they haven't been immunized against this disease.

Why is measles serious?

For every 1,000 children who get measles, one child will also develop swelling of the brain called encephalitis. Encephalitis can cause seizures, mental retardation, hearing loss or death. Measles infection is also particularly dangerous to pregnant women, and has been linked to miscarriage, stillbirths and early delivery.

Why should my child be immunized against measles?

Measles is now extremely rare in Canada, but remains a leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths of children around the world. The measles vaccine is your child's best defense against this disease.

If we stop immunizing, measles could return to Canada. Experience in other countries has shown that diseases like measles quickly return when fewer people are immunized.  Even though there are few cases in Canada, measles outbreaks still occur in many parts of the world, including Europe. This means that someone from another country could become infected abroad and could bring measles into Canada and infect children who aren’t immunized.

About the measles vaccine...

What kind of vaccine is given to prevent measles?

The measles vaccine is given by needle and is very safe. Like all vaccines authorized for use in Canada, it went through several stages of rigorous testing before being authorized for use.   The measles vaccine is administered as part of combined vaccines – called MMR or MMRV. The MMR vaccine protects your child from measles, mumps and rubella, while the MMRV vaccine protects your child from measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chicken pox).

Does the MMR vaccine cause autism?

The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine does not cause autism. Medical researchers and scientists around the world have studied information collected over many years to see whether there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism –a lifelong developmental disorder. They have not found any evidence of a link.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects of the measles vaccine are usually very mild. Your child may have a slight fever, be fussy, sleepier or have less appetite than usual. Your child’s arm or thigh might be a bit red or sore where the needle went in. These side effects are very common, happen 12 to 24 hours after the immunization and usually go away within a few days. Overall, these side effects are much milder than the effects –or complications –of having measles.

In rare cases, there may be fever and discomfort, with or without a rash, lasting up to 3 days and occurring 7 to 12 days after immunization. One in 3,000 children with fever may have associated convulsions. The rubella component of the combined, MMR vaccine can occasionally cause joint inflammation and pain, which can last up to three months.

When should my child get the measles vaccine?

Canadian guidelines recommend that all children get two doses of the combined measles-containing vaccine (MMR or MMRV). The first dose is usually given when children are one year old and the second is given either when they are 18 months or before they start school (between ages 4 and 6).

Schedules may vary from province to province.    Calculate your child's personal immunization schedule, to see when your child should be immunized against 13 vaccine preventable diseases, including measles.

Parents, make sure that your immunizations are up to date!

People born in Canada before 1970 are generally assumed to be immune to measles as they were exposed to the virus in their childhood; however, people born in Canada after 1970 may have lower immunity, as they are too young to have been exposed to the virus in childhood, and too old to have been included in routine immunization programs when the second dose of MMR was introduced. Therefore, Canadian guidelines recommend a second dose of MMR for adults born after 1970 who are at risk of infection, including students at post secondary institutions, military recruits, travellers to areas where measles occurs, and health care workers.

Can giving my child several vaccines at the same time overwhelm the immune system?

No.   Combination vaccines that provide protection against multiple diseases in one vaccine have been shown to be safe and effective. Giving combination vaccines protects children against more diseases sooner. As an added benefit, it also reduces children's discomfort by reducing the number of injections they receive. And it saves parents the time and expense of additional office visits.

Who should not get the measles vaccine?

A child who has had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the measles vaccine should not get the vaccine again. Signs of a severe allergic reaction would include breathing problems (wheezing), swelling and blotchy skin on the body (hives) or around the mouth. If you see any of these symptoms or are concerned about your child's health, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor or public health office (local community service centre (CLSC) in Quebec).

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