The measles are a highly contagious viral illness that’s also very preventable. Learn more about the signs, symptoms and how to protect yourself and your family.
Since 2000, the measles have been declared “eliminated” from the U.S., thanks to the widespread use of highly effective childhood vaccines. But in rare instances, we continue to see the illness gain some ground. We asked one of our health experts how to stay protected — not just for you and your loved ones, but the whole community.
“We always recommend everyone in the community do their part to protect themselves and others by getting properly vaccinated and washing your hands frequently,” says Dr. Tibor Toplenszky, Renown Urgent Care Division Chief.
For any patients showing signs and symptoms (cough, runny nose, red eyes, sore throat or rash), please wear a mask, minimize contact with others and contact your care provider before coming in to the office to see if testing and treatment are needed, Dr. Toplenszky adds.
Also, if you feel you were recently exposed to the virus, please visit the Washoe County Health District to take the online measles exposure questionnaire.
What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that is spread in the air by coughs and sneezes. It can stay in the air and on surfaces two hours after a contagious person has been in the area. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is highly effective, safe and led to a 99 percent reduction in the rate of measles infections compared to the pre-vaccine era.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms start out similar to a minor cold with a runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat and pink eyes, followed by red rash that spreads all over the body. People with measles are contagious four days before the rash appears and four days after the rash starts.
Measles typically spread when a contagious person coughs or sneezes, that’s why it is so important to take proper precautions if you think you have these symptoms. You can protect others by wearing a mask wherever you go and getting tested as soon as possible.
How long does it take to show signs of measles after being exposed?
It takes an average of 10–12 days from exposure to the first symptom, which is usually fever. The measles rash doesn’t usually appear until approximately 14 days after exposure, and two-to-three days after the fever begins.
Who is at risk?
In general, the unvaccinated are at risk. This includes children who are too young to get the vaccine (12 months and younger), immune-compromised persons (people with HIV, cancer, etc.) and those who have chosen not to get vaccinated. Measles is highly contagious; nine out of 10 susceptible persons who are exposed to the virus will get the disease which is why getting properly vaccinated is so important.
Do adults need a booster MMR vaccine?
Previously, measles infections were so common that we can safely assume anyone born before 1957 not only had the measles, but was also exposed to it many times in childhood and has immunity. The live virus vaccine for measles became available in 1967, so those born between 1957 and 1967 may not be immune.
If you have concerns, please talk to your care provider so they can make a recommendation, but typically there is no negative impact from receiving an additional MMR booster in adulthood.
What can you do to protect your loved ones?
Currently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-recommend vaccination is for children to receive a first does of the vaccine between 12-to-15 months of age, followed by a second dose of the vaccine at age 4. Children under the age of 6 months and people who are immune compromised are not eligible for vaccination, but can be protected if those around them are immunized.
For families who will be traveling internationally, children can get vaccinated as soon as 6 months. Keep in mind, if your child is vaccinated prior to 12 months of age, they should still get two doses after age 1 — separated by at least 28 days.
If you haven’t vaccinated your child, or you are an adult eligible for vaccination (without proof of two doses of MMR), make an appointment to see your provider as soon as possible.
How can people protect themselves?
Because measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing, it is important for anyone with symptoms to take proper precautions to protect others by wearing a mask and getting tested as soon as possible. Remember: People are contagious four days before and four days after the rash appears.
What can someone do if they test positive?
It’s important for our entire community’s safety for anyone with symptoms to take proper precautions by wearing a mask and isolating themselves four days after the rash appears.
Depending on a person’s exposure, they can receive a vaccination within three days of exposure or immunoglobulin within six days of exposure. Outside of those time periods, care is supportive only.
What is the procedure if someone believes they have measles and want to be treated?
If you think you or a loved one has been exposed to measles, call your doctor’s office at 775-982-5000. Your care provider can help determine the level of risk, address any questions you have, guide you to the next level of appropriate care, and determine if the vaccine or antibodies can help provide protection.
The MMR vaccine is effective within three days after an exposure to measles. Additionally, specific measles antibodies are effective in providing protection up to six days after exposure.
If you believe you may have been exposed to the measles, it is important to call the doctor’s office before you arrive so the appropriate precautions can be taken. Please wear a mask whenever possible.