What is measles?

Measles is a very contagious viral infection that spreads through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. Measles can result in complications such as pneumonia, blindness, ear infections and brain infections. Rarely, death can occur.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

Symptoms of measles include:

  • Fever, cough and runny nose
  • Red, irritated eyes that are sensitive to light
  • Small white, grey or blue spots in the mouth
  • Red, blotchy rash, which is the last symptom to appear. The rash appears on the face and then spreads down over the body, and will begin to fade after about a week.

Symptoms can start anywhere from 7 to 21, usually 10 days after a person has been exposed to the virus. The rash usually starts 14 days after exposure.

How is it spread?

Measles is a virus that spreads easily through the air. It is spread in tiny droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes. It can survive in the air for up to two hours. Measles can be spread from four days before the rash appears until four days after the rash starts.

What do you do if you are exposed to measles?

People are considered protected against measles if:

  • they were born before 1970
  • they have had measles in the past with lab confirmation
  • they have received two doses of measles vaccine

If someone is not protected against measles, getting the vaccine within three days of exposure may prevent getting the measles. They should contact their health care provider as soon as possible.

Measles vaccine should not be given to:

  • Women who are expecting
  • People who have problems with their immune system
  • Infants under six months old.

These individuals can be treated with another medication up to six days after exposure.

What to do if you develop symptoms:

  • Stay home and don’t allow others to visit for at least four days after the rash starts.
  • Contact your doctor or nurse practitioner by phone. Please note – If you need to visit a health care provider, call first and tell them you have measles symptoms. Visit the office at the end of the day, unless this is not practical or possible for medical reasons. On arrival, immediately ask for a mask when you enter the office or clinic, and to be placed in a private room. If this is not possible, wait in your car until you can be seen by the health care provider.
  • If your health care provider suspects measles, they will notify the Health Unit by calling 519-271-7600 extension 256.

How is measles treated?

There is no treatment for measles. Supportive measures can be taken to relieve sore throat, cough and fever. Care should be taken not to expose others to infection by staying home and not allowing others to visit for at least four days after the start of the rash. Immunization prior to exposure is the best defense against infection.

How can measles be prevented?


  • Two doses of measles vaccine are given to children after their first birthday to provide the best protection. Measles vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines and is called Measles, Mumps, Rubella. This vaccine should be administered no sooner than 12 months of age. The second dose should be given as Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella between four and six years of age, preferably before starting school.
  • Some adults may have received only one dose of the vaccine in the past. A second dose of Measles, Mumps, Rubella is recommended for post-secondary students, health care workers, military personnel or those who plan to travel internationally. Measles vaccine should not be given to pregnant women or people with immune system problems.

Additional Measles or Vaccine Information 

For further information, please call Health Line at 519-271-7600 or toll-free at 1-877-271-7348 extension 267.

Developed by Oxford County Public Health and Middlesex London Health Unit and adapted with permission.