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Measles

What is measles?

Measles is a virus that spreads through the air when an infected individual coughs or sneezes.  The virus causes disease in 90% of those exposed who do not have immunity.  The virus can live on surfaces for as long as 2 hours after being expelled from an ill individual.  Breathing in the virus, or touching the contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s eyes, mouth, or nose, can spread the infection.  Measles is contagious typically from ~4 days before the rash develops to ~4 days after the onset of the rash.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles can take from 7 to 21 days to appear.  It usually starts with a fever, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat.  White spots may develop in the mouth a couple of days later.   3-5 days after symptoms begin, the typical measles rash starts from the head/face and spreads to the rest of the body.

Why is measles dangerous?

30% of people who catch measles will report complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, and diarrhea.  A very dangerous complication of measles is inflammation around the brain (encephalitis). Children under age 5 and adults over age 20 are at greater risk from measles infections.  Over 20 million people get measles around the world and 146,000 die each year.  Children who survive a measles infection may be at risk of developing an incurable brain inflammation 7-10 years later that leads to seizures, coma, and death.

How prevalent is measles?

Many families are now concerned about measles following a recent outbreak triggered by an infectious person or persons visiting the Disneyland Parks in Anaheim, California during mid- to late December 2014. To date (March 3, 2015) there are 28 confirmed cases in Los Angeles County, 17 of which are linked to the Disneyland Parks. As the outbreak continues to unfold, it is likely that new measles cases will occur among those who have had contact with persons in the initial wave of infection.

What is “herd immunity”?

Measles was almost eradicated in the United States for many years because of the effectiveness of the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The MMR vaccine is recommended in two doses, one at 12 months of age, and one at 4-6 years of age.  No booster shots are routinely recommended at this time.  This vaccine has been used for over 20 years; and has been proven to be safe.  But, some people have avoided immunizing themselves or their children, due to unfounded fears about serious side effects.  Therefore, with as many as 20% of children unvaccinated in some neighborhoods, “herd immunity” has been reduced and measles has taken hold again.  One case of measles can spread quickly to dozens of unimmunized people.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “in order for vaccines to protect everyone, an estimated 85 to 95 percent of the population must be immunized.  Studies have shown that children who are not immunized are more likely to become infected with measles…”  Some children who are unable to get the MMR vaccine for medical reasons depend on herd immunity to avoid infection and illness.

Is the MMR vaccine safe?  I had heard something about it causing autism.

Yes, the vaccine is safe.  Mild side effects such as arm soreness, redness, and swelling can sometimes occur.  Injections can also trigger fainting in some individuals soon after being administered; so nurses ask that people wait 15-20 minutes in the clinic after a vaccine. But, the MMR vaccine is not a cause of autism; according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “HRSA (the Health Resources and Services Administration) has reviewed the scientific information concerning the allegation that vaccines cause autism and has found no credible evidence to support the claim.”  Concerns about additives and preservatives in vaccine formulations have also not been supported by evidence-based research studies.  The benefits of vaccination are great and far outweigh the occasional smaller risks.

I was immunized in the 60’s—can I get measles today?

The early measles vaccines used in the 60’s and 70’s were not as effective as later vaccines.  Today’s vaccines provide immunity in 97-99% of those immunized by the recommended two doses.  But, persons vaccinated in the 60’s and 70’s may not have developed a good immune response and could be susceptible to getting measles.  A blood test can check for antibodies to measles—if sufficient antibodies to measles haven’t developed, re-immunization is recommended.

I was born prior to 1957—am I immune?

Probably.  You may have had measles as a child and developed lifelong immunity.  But not everyone did.  Your doctor can order a blood test that can tell you if you have antibodies to measles and other childhood diseases of that era.   If you’re not immune, it’s recommended that you get the measles vaccine.

Can I get measles from my pets?

No, measles is a human virus, and doesn’t infect animals or spread to humans from pets.

What happens if a person is diagnosed with measles on campus?

There are no reported cases of measles at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) at this time.  If a student, faculty, staff, or campus visitor comes to campus with measles, the University will take the necessary steps to protect both the individual and others on campus.  These steps include isolating the ill individual to keep him or her from having contact with others and spreading the virus through the air and on surfaces.  The ill individual will be transferred to his or her home or to an appropriate care facility such as a hospital to help him or her recover.

All measles-exposed areas and surfaces will be closed to the public until they are disinfected and there is no longer a risk of others catching the virus.

Measles cases diagnosed are reportable to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Acute Communicable Diseases Department (LACDPH).  The Student Health Center and CPP Environmental Health and Safety will work with LACDPH to identify any contacts an ill individual may have had on campus; and will assess whether these contacts are at risk to be infected with measles.
The contacts will be interviewed to determine their presumptive immunity.  At-risk contacts who have not had measles or two MMR vaccinations may be tested to see if they are immune.  If they are not immune, LACDPH may implement a quarantine, and ask the contact to stay away from school, work, and others who have not been exposed for the full 21 day incubation period.
Close contacts of an ill individual such as family members may be provided with a measles vaccine and/or measles-fighting immune globulin within 72 hours to try to prevent the disease.

How can I keep from getting measles?

To be considered immune to measles infection, everyone should meet ONE of the following criteria:

  1. Born prior to 1957.  Most everyone born in 1956 or earlier has already had the measles.
  2. Documentation of TWO doses of measles containing vaccine after one year of age.
  3. Have a blood test showing immunity to measles.
  4. Have a certificate from a health care provider verifying that you had measles in the past.


The best way to avoid measles is to make sure you and your family are immune.  The MMR vaccine is safe and effective; talk to your doctor about getting immunized if you have not had two doses of the MMR vaccine.  The MMR vaccine is available for students at the Student Health Center.

Faculty and staff are encouraged to contact their personal physician about the vaccine and/or to determine immunity.

CSU Executive Order 803 asks that all students matriculating at CPP show proof of immunity to measles.

If you do become ill and suspect you may have measles, please avoid contact with other people and call your doctor or the Student Health Center at 909-869-4000 and ask to speak to the Triage Nurse.  The Student Health Center will help you get the care you need in the safest environment for you and others.

If you need additional information, please follow this link for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to access this information: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/hea/library/topics/measles/CDCP-IP-0012-01.pdf

Major portion of this information were taken with permission from the California State University Northridge, Klotz Student Health Center.