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Measles Outbreak: Frequently Asked Questions

We have provided answers to some questions that you may have about measles and the MMR vaccine.
Please click on a question in the list below to see the answer to that question or scroll down the page to view all the questions and their answers.
New Queries

What is measles?

What are the symptomsMeasles is a serious disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. In rare cases, it can be deadly. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against measles, as well as mumps and rubella (German Measles).

What are the symptoms?

Measles starts with a fever, which can get very high. Soon after, it causes a cough, runny nose, and red eyes. About four days after infection a rash of tiny, red or brown spots breaks out. It starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. The rash can last for a week, and coughing can last for 10 days. Some children who get measles also get diarrhoea or ear infections.
Children who get measles can be off school for 10 days or more they may need to be admitted to hospital.

What complications are possible from catching measles?

Complications are quite common, even in the UK. They include a severe cough and breathing difficulties (croup), ear infections, viral and bacterial lung infections (pneumonia), and eye infections (conjunctivitis). Most can be treated with antibiotics.
In one in every 1,000 cases, inflammation of the brain can occur between two and six days after the rash begins. When this happens, one in four cases are left brain damaged.
Measles during pregnancy can result in the loss or early birth of the baby.

How do you catch measles?

Measles is caught through direct contact with an infected person, or through the air by coughs or sneezes. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been. You can catch measles from an infected person even before they have measles rash. A person with measles is usually infectious to others from four days before to four days after the onset of the rash.
If you or your child that have not been immunised or have not had measles before, you have a 90 per cent chance of catching measles if you come into contact with a case.  It is most infectious before the rash appears and only minor contact may be needed for the virus to spread.

Who catches measles?

Measles is now rare in the UK because of the high levels of immunisation, but outbreaks of the disease are becoming more common. Anyone Why don't people get the vaccinationwho has not had the MMR vaccine or measles itself can catch measles.
It is most common in children aged between one and four who have not been immunised, and school children who missed out on the MMR when they were pre-school. Outbreaks often coincide with school terms when there is much more close contact between children.
You only need one or two people who haven't had the vaccination to put at risk babies, toddlers and anyone else who is vulnerable, such as children with leukaemia who cannot have the vaccination, and pregnant women who haven't been vaccinated.

What is the treatment?

There is no specific treatment for measles.  Patients should drink lots of clear fluid to replace body water lost through the fever. Paracetamol/Ibuprofen can be used to reduce the fever.
Because measles is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective, although they may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection develops.

What should I do if I think someone in my family has measles?

If measles is suspected contact your GP surgery and inform them you or your child has a rash illness before attending, so that arrangements can be made to minimise contact with other vulnerable patients. 
Anyone with measles should be closely monitored for complications. Hospital treatment may be required if serious complications develop.
One to three out of every 5,000 children in the UK who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best care. 
The MMR jab is the most effective and safest way to protect children against measles.

I have measles, how long should I be off work or school?

Measles is most infectious from four days before the rash appears until four days afterwards. A child should be kept off school for four days after the onset of the rash.
Preventing measles

How do I avoid catching measles?

Measles can be prevented by getting the safe and highly effective measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine/jab. Two doses of the MMR immunisation are required - a first dose at 13 months of age and the second at three years and four months of age.
If your child (one to 18 years of age) is unvaccinated, make immediate arrangements with your GP for them to receive the MMR jab. This is even more important if your child has had contact with someone with measles.

Can I get the MMR jab for my child before they are 12 months old?

Children who are six to 12 months old and living in or travelling to the outbreak area can be vaccinated early, but would still need to receive the recommended two doses.

I’m pregnant – can I get the MMR jab?

Pregnant women and people with weak immune systems should not be immunised but may be treated with immunoglobulin – a special protein injection which can provide immediate short-term protection by attacking the virus.

I'm not sure if I'm pregnant - can I get vaccinated?

Speak to your GP and tell them you think you may be pregnant. They will advise you on whether to proceed with the vaccination.

The MMR vaccineIs the MMR vaccine safe?

Yes, the MMR vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organisation, UK Department of Health and Public Health Wales. 
Although there was publicity in 1998 which highlighted a report claiming a link between the MMR jab and autism, numerous studies undertaken since to investigate this claim have found  no such linklink to an external website - opens in a new windowlink to an external website - opens in a new window .

Can I get the single vaccine?

The single vaccine is not available on the NHS. The MMR jab has been thoroughly investigated and is a very safe jab to protect children against measles. Studies from around the world have shown MMR to be a highly effective vaccine, with an excellent safety record.

I am visiting the outbreak area. What should I do?

It’s important to assess the risks, and you need to discuss this with your GP or Practice Nurse.

I had measles as a child. Can I catch it again?

People who have had measles in the past are protected and unlikely to get it again. However, they will still need the MMR to protect them against mumps and rubella.

Can adults catch measles?

What does MMR vaccinate against
If you were born before 1970 in the UK you are likely to have natural protection from having been exposed to measles as a child, and don’t need MMR vaccine. The decision on whether to offer the MMR to adults needs to take into consideration the past vaccination history and the risk of exposure.
MMR vaccine can be given at any age.

Where can I get further information?

For advice on the measles and getting the MMR vaccine, please contact your GP.  For more information visit  www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uklink to an external website - opens in a new window , or telephone 0845 46 47.

New Queries

My child is taking part in the URDD Eisteddfod, so I need to travel to Pembrokeshire – what should I do?

Your child may end up mixing with children who are carrying measles, so make sure they have received their MMR vaccination.  You can do this either by checking in their ‘red book’ (the Personal Child Health Record available from your health visitor) or by contacting your GP. If your child has not received their MMR vaccination you need to make arrangements with your GP for them to get it as soon as possible.

What is the incubation period for measles? Could my child already have measles without my knowing it?

The incubation period for measles is between six and 21 days, so your child could have for three weeks before displaying any symptoms. A child with the measles is infectious, or able to pass the disease on to others, from four days before their rash appears to four days after it appears. A child should be kept off school for four days after the onset of their rash.

I don’t live in the outbreak area. Should my child have their MMR jab or booster early?

The normal advice for vaccinating young babies is for them to have their first vaccination aged 13 months and then their booster aged between 3-5 years of age. The advice changed for those in living in the outbreak area because the infection was circulating widely in the community. However, there haven’t been any cases of measles reported in the RCT area so therefore the advice is the same and I hope you will be back with your son to have him vaccinated in a few months time.

Are adults (who work with children) able to have MMR via the GP? My surgery is unsure of the policy.

Firstly you would only need it if you were born after 1970 and have not had measles previously or the vaccine already. Secondly, it depends on where you live. If you live in the outbreak area then yes. Otherwise it is down to your health board and you would need to contact them.

How many of those who have been diagnosed with measles have had one or both of the MMR jabs?

It will take some time after the outbreak for this information to be collected and interpreted.  However, cases are developing where we would expect to see them, with the vast majority being seen in people who have not had the MMR vaccine.
Two doses of MMR are known to provide 99 per cent protection so in any large outbreak we would expect to see a small number of cases in people who have had two doses.

Where is considered to be the area affected by the outbreak?

The area affected by the outbreak is Swansea, North Powys and Llanelli.

How effective is the MMR?

Emerging data from the measles outbreak centred around the Swansea area is showing that two doses of the MMR protects in around 99 of 100 cases.
The data also suggests that one dose of MMR vaccine has shown to protect against measles in more than 95 out of every 100 cases vaccinated – higher than previous experience.

Can my child get measles, mumps or rubella from the vaccination, and can they infect a younger more vulnerable sibling?

In some instances it’s possible to display mild measles, mumps or rubella symptoms after receiving the MMR vaccine as the body prepares to “remember” the virus and become immune. In these cases the child is not infectious, and cannot pass the viruses on to anyone. The MMR vaccine is safe and effective.
Importance of vaccination

I haven’t had the MMR. How will giving my kids the MMR protect friends and family who are unvaccinated?

Giving a child the MMR vaccine will help to protect those around them because they won’t be able to pass on the measles to family and friends if they are immune.
People born before 1970 in the UK are likely to have natural protection from having been exposed to measles as a child, and don’t need MMR vaccine. The decision on whether to offer the MMR to adults needs to take into consideration the past vaccination history and the risk of exposure.

Why are there fewer ‘laboratory confirmed’ than 'notified' cases of measles?

We do not test all cases of measles diagnosed by a doctor. Where a child is unvaccinated and has strong links to a confirmed case (e.g. sibling or classmate), a doctor's diagnosis is enough to count as a 'notified' case of measles. Our notified cases therefore include some who have been confirmed with measles in a laboratory, and some who have all the symptoms of measles and close links to confirmed cases.

Is the MMR vaccine linked to autism or other neurological disorders?

There is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or other neurological disorders. Hundreds of studies have been conducted into this subject, and there is no evidence of a link.

Is the risk from the MMR vaccine greater or less than the risk from catching measles?

The MMR jab has been thoroughly investigated and has an excellent safety record. It is recommended by the World Health Organisation, UK Possible consequences of measlesDepartment of Health and Public Health Wales, and is used in more than 100 countries with more than 500 million doses given since 1988.
Measles on the other hand can lead to encephalitis, meningitis, pneumonia, loss of hearing, and even death. We expect to see serious complications in one in every 500 cases of measles. The risks from measles are much greater than any risk associated with the MMR vaccine.

How many of the children who caught the measles in the current outbreak had received an MMR jab? Can you still get measles after receiving the MMR?

As of 26 April, fewer than 10 laboratory confirmed cases of measles are reported to have previously received the MMR vaccination in the outbreak area since the start of the outbreak.
It is possible to contract measles after receiving the MMR vaccine, but this is extremely rare. Emerging data from the measles outbreak centred around the Swansea area is showing that two doses of the MMR protects in around 99 out of 100 cases. The data also suggests that one dose of MMR vaccine has shown to protect against measles in more than 95 out of every 100 cases vaccinated.

What is Public Health Wales’ role in this outbreak?

Public Health Wales are investigating, managing and controlling the outbreak to minimise the spread of disease.  This is being done through specialist Health Protection Teams located throughout Wales who advise and support individuals, families and other health professionals.  Public Health Wales also coordinate and provide other specialist resources, such as disease surveillance, lab testing, immunisation and communications to help manage the outbreaks and halt the spread of disease.

Do you know the vaccination status of those who have caught measles during the outbreak?

Providing robust figures around the MMR status of reported or notified cases of measles during an outbreak is complex.  We are systematically investigating the MMR status and laboratory confirmed measles status of reported cases, but at the moment our focus is on ensuring as many unvaccinated children as possible are vaccinated as soon as possible.  Data on the MMR status of confirmed cases will be released in time.
In the meantime we would confirm 90 per cent of children receiving one dose of MMR will be protected against measles.  For those completing the full two-dose course, 99 per cent of children will be protected. Children who have not been fully immunised face a life-long risk of catching measles.

I wish to undertake an interview at a hospital, GP surgery, or school. Can Public Health Wales arrange this for us?

If you wish to conduct media interviews at a hospital or GP surgery, then you will need to liaise with the relevant health board. Public Health Wales cannot arrange media interviews at these locations.
This document provides contact details for the health boards, and the geographical areas that each one covers. 
If you wish to do media interviews at a school, it is best to contact the relevant local authority. You can find the website addresses for the local authorities on this Welsh Government webpagelink to an external website - opens in a new window.

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Last updated: 14 May 2013