Published on June 5, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on June 21, 2024 at 8:00

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is caused by a virus. In Canada, measles is relatively rare as a result of vaccination programs. However, occasional outbreaks still occur. Since the disease remains present in other parts of the world, travellers who are not vaccinated can catch it abroad and transmit it once they return.

Measles causes the following symptoms:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Red eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Irritability or drowsiness

About 3-7 days after the first symptoms develop, red spots appear on the face, gradually spreading into a rash that covers the whole body. The rash disappears after 3-7 days. Some people also develop white spots on the inside of their cheeks. Measles symptoms last 1-2 weeks and usually begin 7-21 days after exposure to the virus.

Measles should not be taken lightly. It is a serious respiratory infection that can lead to serious complications, including the following:

  • Otitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Miscarriage or premature delivery
  • Death

Some people, including the following, are at greater risk of developing serious complications:

  • Children under the age of 1
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a weakened immune system due to an illness (e.g., cancer) or medication

Causes and triggers

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. It is caused by a virus and spreads through the air. Simply being in a room with a person with measles or where an infected person has recently been, puts you at risk of contracting the illness.

A person who catches the disease will be contagious 4 days before symptoms develop and up to 4 days after spots appear on their skin. People with measles should stay home during the contagious period and take particular care to avoid coming into contact with young children and pregnant women.

Once a person has had the disease, they develop immunity to the virus and will therefore catch it only once.

Treatment

There is no cure for measles. Infected persons are advised to stay hydrated, rest, and take medication to control the fever (e.g., Tylenol, Advil).

The best way to protect yourself and others is vaccination.

When should I see a health care professional?

You should consult your health care provider if you have symptoms of measles. Call ahead to let them know you're coming. Because measles is highly contagious, it may be necessary to take preventive measures.

Consult your health care provider as soon as possible if you've been in contact with someone who has measles. A vaccine can be administered within 72 hours of contact with the infected person to prevent infection.

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