Frequently Asked Questions about Measles Outbreak in California

April 26, 2019

What are measles?

Measles are a highly contagious viral infection that is easily spread from one person to another when an infected individual coughs and sneezes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected." Contributing to its infectiousness, the measles virus can live on surfaces and in the air up to two hours after an infected person has coughed or sneezed.

What are the complications?

Complications from measles infections develop in approximately 30 percent of those infected. Children under 5 years old and adults over 20 years of age are at higher risk for complications, though complications are serious for all age groups. Common complications include ear infections and diarrhea.

Severe complications include:

  • Pneumonia: A lung infection, which is the No. 1 cause of death for children with measles.
  • Encephalitis: Swelling of the brain which can lead to convulsions, loss of hearing and mental retardation.
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis: A rare, but fatal, central nervous system disease that develops seven to 10 years after a person has had the measles.

What vaccine is recommended?

Vaccination with two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) or MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, varicella — for children 12 months to 12 years of age) vaccine is the best way to prevent infection.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms typically develop seven to 14 days after exposure. They include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)

Two to three days after symptom onset:

  • White spots may appear in the mouth

Three to five days after symptom onset:

  • A rash may develop that spreads from the hairline of the face to the body, arms, legs, and feet. The rash initially appears as flat red spots. Red raised bumps may develop on the spots.
  • Fever may spike to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher when the rash appears.
  • The rash and fever typically subside after a few days.

What should I do if I’m not sure whether I’ve been immunized?

If you have any question about whether you are immunized, please contact your personal physician. If you have not had two doses of MMR vaccine, schedule to receive your vaccinations as soon as possible.

What is the best prevention?

Of the estimated 20 million people around the world who get infected with measles each year, 146,000 die. That equals about 440 deaths every day or about 17 deaths every hour, according to the CDC. Yet, measles can be prevented with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination.

Information about vaccination recommendations is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sonoma County Public Health Division and