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Frequently Asked Questions - Measles

Updated Feb 23, 2015

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles symptoms may include the following:

  • High fever

  • Runny nose

  • Cough

  • Red eyes

  • Sore throat

  • Tiny white spots inside the mouth

  • Rash that spreads over the face and body

How is it spread?

When a person who is sick with measles talks, coughs or sneezes, the virus is released into the air and enters another person’s body through the nose, mouth or throat. The measles virus can live on contaminated surfaces and in the airspace where an infected person was for up to two hours.

Measles may be transmitted from four days before through four days after the onset of a rash.

Is it a serious disease? Can you die from getting the measles?

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease and the complications are dangerous. Six to 20 percent of the people who get the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea, or even pneumonia. One out of 1,000 people with measles will develop inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), and about one out of 1,000 will die.

However, children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications.

How are people protected from the measles?

People are generally considered to be protected if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • Born before January 1, 1957

  • Received the complete measles vaccine series (2 doses)

  • Were previously infected with the measles

These people are generally considered to be protected (immune) from acquiring measles, even if they have been in contact with an infected person.

Doesn't Princeton require the measles shot for all students?

Princeton requires two doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine for all incoming students -- except those who cannot get the vaccine for valid medical reasons or because of religious beliefs. Over 99.5 percent of all Princeton students have received two doses of the vaccine.

One dose of the MMR is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus, and two doses are about 97 percent effective.

Could I still get measles if I am fully vaccinated?

Only about three out of 100 who get two doses of measles vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Fortunately, fully vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness, and they are also less likely to spread the disease to other people.

Was the student with measles vaccinated?


Should I get vaccinated if I am not protected or I do not know?

If you have not already received the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccine, getting the vaccine now will not immediately protect you from the virus. It takes about two weeks for a dose of the vaccine to provide protection.  Because the current period of concern was Feb. 4 through Feb. 8, only already being protected at that time could have protected you in this situation.

Getting vaccinated is the only way to prevent future infection if you come in contact with an infected person. People who cannot receive the vaccine include anyone with a medical reason they cannot get the vaccine (e.g., cancer, weakened immune system, allergic reaction to the antibiotic neomycin) and pregnant women. Pregnant women should wait to get MMR vaccine until after they have given birth.

Do I need to get a “booster” shot?

Not if you received two doses of the vaccine. Even if you received two doses of measles vaccine as a child, according to the U.S. vaccination schedule, you are considered protected for life and do not ever need a booster dose.

 What is the treatment for measles?

There is no cure for measles, only supportive treatments, including:

  • bed rest
  • fluids

  • fever reduction

Most patients will recover on their own, without complications.

Is there more than one strain?

Yes, but the vaccine protects against them all.

How do I know if I have the measles?

If you experience any of the symptoms above, immediately call your health care provider BEFORE going to see them.

If you are a student, call University Health Services at 609-258-3141.  If you are faculty or staff, call your primary care provider. 

When you are seen by a health care provider, they will observe your symptoms and take a blood sample to test for infection.

I thought it only affected infants and the elderly. Can adults get it? 

Yes, anyone who is not protected can get measles and, while rare, it is possible for individuals who are protected to get measles.  While young children and the elderly are at increased risk, adults who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine to protect themselves from infection.

As a student, what do I need to do?

University Health Services has vaccination records for students, and has contacted students who have not been fully immunized. They have been provided specific instructions. If students have not been contacted by UHS already, they do not need to take further action at this time but should monitor themselves for measles symptoms and immediately contact UHS if they develop symptoms.

Can I get measles from someone who was born before January 1, 1957, or is considered to be immune from a measles infection?

People who were born before January 1, 1957, have completed the measles vaccine series or were previous infected with the measles, are generally considered to be protected (immune) from acquiring measles and cannot spread it to others, even if they have been in contact with an infected person.

Can I spread the measles to others if I was born before January 1, 1957, have had the measles, or completed the vaccine series?

If you were to have measles, you could spread the virus for up to four days before and four days after the rash appears.  However, if you are considered to be immune because you were born before January 1, 1957, have completed the measles vaccine or had the measles and recovered, and you are not sick with the measles, you cannot spread measles to people who may not be protected by the vaccine series, even if you have been in contact with an infected person.

Can measles be spread by someone who is not sick?

Only someone who is infected with measles can spread measles for up to four days before and four days after the rash appears.  However, the person may not know that they have measles for the first few days.

If I am a pregnant, what should I do?

Check with your physician.

Women who get measles during pregnancy typically have normal pregnancies and deliver healthy babies, but there is a slightly increased risk of miscarriage, infection, preterm labor, or low birth weight.

If someone is quarantined, does that mean they are contagious?

Not necessarily. Quarantine is a precaution in case the person is contagious, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Now that the suspected case of measles has been confirmed, are additional precautions or actions needed?

No. Following the guidance and requirements of state and municipal health officials, the University has been taking steps based on the presumption that the case would be confirmed. No new measures are recommended.

What if I have questions about measles that are not addressed here?

Check with your physician.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has measles information on its website, as does the New Jersey Department of Health on its website (PDF).

Back to Measles.

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