Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Safety & Prevention

How to Protect Your Children During a Measles Outbreak

How to Protect Your Children During a Measles Outbreak How to Protect Your Children During a Measles Outbreak

Recent measles outbreaks have many parents concerned. Most of the people who have gotten sick were not vaccinated against measles. This is a stark reminder of the importance of making sure your children are fully vaccinated.

(See "Teen to Teen: Speaking Up for Our Health" below.)

Here are answers to questions that many parents have about measles outbreaks.

I thought measles was a mild illness, so why the alarm now?

Measles was once a common childhood disease and almost an expected part of growing up. While most children recovered from the measles without problems, many others did not. In some children, the infection caused pneumonia and in a few, encephalitis (infection of the brain) and even death. Of every 1,000 people who got measles, 1 to 2 would die.

Before the measles vaccine was available, every year an average of 450 people died from measles; most of them were healthy children.

Thanks to the success of the measles vaccine, we are now able to protect children from the measles. However, in recent years some parents have refused or delayed vaccinating their children out of fear or misinformation about the safety of the measles vaccine. This means there are more unvaccinated children, teens and adults in our communities.

The recent measles outbreaks in the United States have been in unvaccinated people. Choosing to not vaccinate your children not only leaves them susceptible to measles, but also exposes other children to measles. This includes infants who are too young to be vaccinated and those who are unable to be vaccinated due to other health conditions.

How is measles spread?

The measles virus spreads easily through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs and someone nearby inhales the infected droplets. It can also be transmitted by direct contact with fluids from the nose or mouth of an infected person.

Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases known. The virus can live for up to two hours in the air where infected people have coughed or sneezed, or on surfaces they may have touched. As a result, anyone in crowded, public spaces may come into contact with measles.

Speaking Up for Our Health

By: Arin Parsa

My world before COVID was a carefree and joyful one. I looked forward to going to school, playing with friends, pursuing my extracurriculars and spending holidays with my grandparents and cousins. But when the pandemic hit, my life, similar to that of so many teens worldwide, changed dramatically.

We lived in isolation, unable to visit friends and family, worried about our aging grandparents and younger siblings. But thanks to the vaccine, we were able to reclaim some semblance of normalcy in our lives.

Unfortunately, despite billions of life-saving vaccines administered worldwide, rampant disinformation continues to surge. It bothers me greatly that routine vaccination rates have also dropped to dangerous levels. Measles cases increased worldwide, spreading within schools and communities where parents, swayed by disinformation, refused to vaccinate their children.

For me, it is gut-wrenching that children still face the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases. Until I lived through the 2019 measles outbreaks in my state of California, I was oblivious to my fortunate circumstances.

My parents immigrated from India, where they witnessed rampant polio cases in low-income neighborhoods where people do not have access to vaccines. So, they made sure that I got a wellness check at the doctor every school year and got my shots up to date. I wish all children and teens were as fortunate as I am.

I came to realize that vaccine hesitancy among parents has caused widespread inequities. This deeply affects our physical and mental health. Adults largely drive the conversation, crowding out teens' health concerns.

I got vaccinated against COVID, human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, meningitis, flu and other deadly diseases without hesitation. I did this because I believe in the science of vaccines to protect myself and reduce the chance of spreading to others.

Vaccines are a modern miracle of public health. They're not perfect, but the alternative to vaccines is one where our lives and futures are held hostage to deadly pathogens. Science, love and a commitment to protect each other are the only ways we can conquer diseases.

Arin Parsa is a high school sophomore in California and the founder of
Teens for Vaccines Inc. Arin's story originally appeared on the Voices for Vaccines blog.

Is the measles vaccine safe?

Yes. Occasional side effects of the measles vaccine include fever, tenderness at the injection site and rash. Rare side effects include a temporary decrease in blood platelets. The measles vaccine does not cause autism. Getting the measles vaccine is much safer than getting the measles infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

The most recognizable measles symptom is a very high fever accompanied by a red or brownish blotchy rash, although this is not the only symptom.

Before the rash appears, children with measles develop cold-like symptoms, including:

  • Cough

  • Runny nose

  • Fever

  • Red, watery eyes

These symptoms tend to get worse during the first 1 to 3 days of the illness.

When do children need to get the measles vaccine?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend children receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at age 12-15 months, and again at 4-6 years. Children can receive the second dose earlier if it is at least 28 days after the first dose.

There is a combination vaccine called MMRV that contains both chickenpox and MMR vaccines. MMRV is an option for some children 12 months through 12 years of age.

High immunization rates in a community protects those who are too young to be vaccinated, including infants under 12 months of age. These infants are at the highest risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death due to measles. Find information on vaccines for infants age 6-12 months old during an outbreak or before international travel to a location with an active measles outbreak.

How long does the measles vaccine provide protection?

The measles vaccine is very effective in protecting against measles. However, no vaccine is 100% protective so very rarely, people who are vaccinated may develop measles. About 95 of every 100 people will be protected after getting one dose of the MMR vaccine. Two doses of MMR protect 97-99 of every 100 people.

I'm not sure if I've received measles vaccine. Do I need a booster?

If you are not sure if you or your children have been fully vaccinated against measles, talk with your doctor to see if anyone in your family needs to be vaccinated. There is no risk to receiving measles vaccine if you have been immunized before. Measles is a live vaccine so children with immune problems or receiving medications that suppress the immune system should not receive the measles vaccine. Your pediatrician is your best source of advice on vaccinations.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Infectious Diseases (Copyright © 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us