Is Measles Contagious?
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that is spread through the air by respiratory droplets, or by coming in contact with nasal discharge/mucous of an infected person. Measles is most contagious during the three days before the rash appears. The rash usually begins around the face and neck, and works its way down the body, with increasing lesions often seen on the face and trunk. The rash lasts 3-7 days and fades from the body in the order in which it appeared. The fever can linger two or three more days, and the cough as long as 10 days after the rash subsides.1
This disease can be transmitted very easily in areas where people are together in close quarters, such as family members in a home, or students in schools or daycare centers, or among travelers on an airplane. Other high-risk settings for easy transmission of measles include public places where large numbers of people gather and have close contact. Measles transmission has been documented to have occurred even after the contagious person has left the room up to 2 hours before a susceptible person entered the room.2,3
According to the CDC, Americans born before 1957 have naturally acquired immunity to measles.4 Infants born to mothers, who have had measles and acquired natural antibodies, benefit from a passive maternal immunity passed on to them by their mothers to protect them as newborns. There also is evidence that unvaccinated mothers, who have recovered from measles, can pass short-term measles immunity to their infants when they breastfeed their babies.5 However, maternal immunity wanes when the baby is around 4 months old.
If the mother has not had wild type measles but has been vaccinated against measles, studies show that there are no or few maternal antibodies passed on to the baby. Most babies born to vaccinated mothers are susceptible to measles in the first year of life, which is before measles vaccination is recommended at no earlier than 12 months of age, preferably at 15 months of age.6
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Measles and the Measles vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.
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1 Perry RT, Halsey NA. The Clinical Significance of Measles: A Review. J Infect Dis 2004; 189 (Supplement 1): 54-516.
2 van Binnendijk RS, Hahne S, Timen A, et al. Air Travel as a Risk Factor for Introduction of Measles in a Highly Vaccinated Population. Vaccine. Oct. 29, 2008. Vol 26, Issue 46, pp 5775-5777.
3 Biellik RJ, Clements CJ. Strategies for Minimizing Nosocomial Measles Transmission. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 1997, 75 (4): 367-375.
4 CDC.gov. Measles – Q & A about Disease & Vaccine. Aug. 20, 2008.
5 Adu FD, Adeniji JA. Measles Antibodies in the Breast Milk of Nursing Mothers. Afr J Med Med Sci. 1995 Dec;24(4):385-8.
6 Zhao H, Lu P-S, Hu Yali, et al. Low Titers of Measles Antibody in Mothers Whose Infants Suffered from Measles before Eligible Age for Measles Vaccination. Virology Journal. 2010, 7:87.