Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) are diseases that can cause serious complications or even death. Children are especially at risk, but the vaccine has dramatically reduced the number of cases in the U.S.
What is the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine?
A measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine protects children and adults alike from infection by these viruses. The vaccine contains a live agent—a harmless or weakened amount of the live ingredient—that causes the body to fight the infection and acquire immunity to these viruses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these general guidelines:
- Children should get two doses of MMR vaccine—the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 to 6 years
- Teens and adults who have not been vaccinated should get two MMR doses, separated by at least 28 days
- Anyone traveling abroad age 6 months and older should be vaccinated
- Women who may become pregnant should be vaccinated
Children ages 1 to 12 years can get a combination MMRV vaccine that includes a varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. Ask your healthcare provider for recommendations.
Who shouldn't get the MMR vaccine?
There are some who should not get the MMR vaccine. People who fall into any of these categories should avoid it or wait until it is appropriate for them:
- Anyone with a severe allergic reaction to a previous MMR or MMRV vaccine
- Anyone with a severe allergic reaction to an ingredient in the MMR vaccine
- Pregnant women should wait until after delivery for an MMR vaccine; women should avoid getting pregnant for at least four weeks after an MMR vaccination
Talk with a healthcare provider for recommendations specific to you.
What are the side effects of the MMR vaccine?
An MMR vaccine can cause mild side effects. These include:
- Mild rash
- Swelling in the face or neck glands
Moderate side effects are rare but can include:
- Joint pain
- Temporary blood platelet problems
- Fever-related seizures
Any vaccine carries a very small risk of severe allergic reaction. Go to the ER if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Swelling in the face
What causes measles?
Infection with the Rubeola virus causes measles. The virus lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of an infected person. The disease is contagious for four days before any signs of the rash appears, and it continues to be contagious for as long as five days after.
The measles virus can spread to others when they are near an infected person who is coughing or sneezing. What’s more, the virus can live up to two hours in an airspace or on an object.
Signs and symptoms of measles
Typically, measles can be detected if you have a fever with a cough, runny nose or conjunctivitis.
Symptoms usually show up nine to 11 days after the initial infection occurs. Additional symptoms include:
- Watery eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Body aches
- Small grayish-white spots in the mouth
- Fever, ranging from mild to severe and lasting for several days
- Reddish-brown rash, which may last up to a week, starting behind the ears and spreading over the head and neck and sometimes to the rest of the body
How is measles spread?
Measles are usually spread by physical contact with someone who is infected, and it is also possible to contract the infection by simply being near an infected person who is coughing or sneezing.
Touching a contaminated surface and then putting your fingers in your mouth or rubbing your nose or eyes can spread the infection.
What does measles look like?
Two or three days after you notice measles symptoms, it is common to see tiny white spots, known as Koplik spots, appear inside the mouth.
A couple days later, you may see a rash break out. This rash usually begins as flat red spots on the face and may spread to the rest of the body. Once the rash appears, it’s common for a fever to spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Typically, measles symptoms go away within seven to 10 days, but there is no specific treatment for the infection. You can try the following to help relieve symptoms:
- Take Tylenol® or ibuprofen to help manage fever, aches and pains
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from light sensitivity
- Clean eyes with a warm, damp cloth
- Take cough medicine
- Ask your provider if antibiotics are needed for a secondary bacterial infection
If you develop the measles, it’s important that you avoid any public place for at least four days after the rash appears to avoid spreading the illness. To prevent catching or spreading the virus, follow these standard precautions:
- Frequently wash your hands with soapy, warm water
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid being in close contact with someone who is sick
If you’re planning to travel, especially internationally, it’s important that you are current on your measles vaccine.
What is rubella?
Commonly referred to as the German measles, rubella is an infection caused by the rubella virus. The virus is best known for its distinctive red rash.
The difference between rubella and measles are the viruses that caused them. Fortunately, rubella has been declared eliminated in the U.S., but it is still crucial that you are vaccinated to prevent it from reemerging.
After exposure to the rubella virus, it is typical for symptoms not to appear for as long as three weeks. When they do appear, they can be very mild, making them difficult to notice.
Symptoms usually last one to five days and can include:
- Mild fever
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Red eyes
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Pink rash that starts on the face
- Aching joints.
When rubella symptoms are mild, there is usually no need for treatment. Even so, a provider will likely recommend that you stay isolated to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others.
For women who are pregnant, it is important to discuss with your provider the risks to your baby.
A provider may prescribe antibodies called hyperimmune globulin to help fight the infection.
What is mumps?
Mumps, also a viral infection, primarily affects saliva-producing glands near your ears. Someone suffering from mumps may experience swelling in one or both of these glands.
While the number of mumps cases has dropped dramatically in recent years, outbreaks do still occur in the U.S. Those who are not vaccinated are most likely to be affected by these outbreaks.
Is mumps contagious?
Mumps is spread much the same way colds and flu are spread—through droplets of infected saliva.
Those suffering from mumps are usually no longer contagious five days after the appearance of symptoms.
There is no treatment for mumps since antibiotics are not effective, but most people recover within a few weeks.
What do mumps look like?
Mumps often appear as swollen salivary glands, causing the cheek to puff out. You may also feel pain in the swollen glands on one or both sides of your face.
CareNow® Urgent Care clinics offer the MMR vaccine
If you or a loved one needs an MMR vaccine, contact the nearest CareNow® urgent care clinic, then minimize your time waiting in the waiting room with Web Check-In®. Open seven days a week, CareNow® urgent care clinics welcome walk-in patients.
Disclaimer: Patient’s health can vary. While this content was approved for publishing by a board certified medical director, always consult with your personal medical professional first before deciding that any medical advice from the internet is right for you.