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Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)

Introduction

Measles, mumps and rubella are viral infections which can be prevented by having the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Measles, mumps and rubella diseases remain widespread in all parts of the world but are most common in Asia, Africa and South America. Outbreaks occur in Europe, North America and Australia/New Zealand where populations are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.

All three viruses are caught by breathing in infected droplets released when someone with one of the viruses coughs or sneezes, or picked up from surfaces and transferred into your nose and mouth from your hands.

Recommendations for Travellers

Travelling abroad may increase your risk of catching measles, mumps or rubella and becoming ill during or after travel.

Your risk of catching these viruses is higher if you will be visiting friends and relatives and/or mixing closely with the local population and/or attending large gatherings during your trip.

To protect yourself and others you should:

Vaccination

MMR is the vaccine used in the UK. It is a combined vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

Two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are needed in your life time to protect you against all three viruses.

Children:

MMR vaccine is usually given to babies and young children as part of the UK vaccination schedule.

  • the first dose is usually given around 12 to 13 months of age
  • the second dose is usually given around 3.5 to 4 years old

If your baby has not yet received the MMR vaccine, talk to your GP or travel health professional as they may still be able to have the vaccine if you are travelling to an area considered to have a high risk of exposure to measles, mumps or rubella.

Adults:

Two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are needed in your life time to protect you against all three viruses.

If you were previously infected (usually when you were a child) with either measles, mumps or rubella illness you should have lifelong immunity against that particular disease.

  • Check with your GP before travelling to ensure you have received two doses of MMR vaccination.
    • If you were born before 1990, you are unlikely to be fully vaccinated against mumps.
  • If you have not had 2 doses of MMR vaccine, you should consider being vaccinated before travel.

Overview of the Diseases

All three of these viral infections can be prevented by the MMR vaccine.

Measles

Measles is one of the most highly contagious illnesses.

Measles virus can stay in the air and on surfaces for up to 2 hours after an infected person leaves the area and infect those who then enter that area.

Anyone can get measles if they are not fully vaccinated but it is most common in young children.

Symptoms usually start 10 days after your contact with the virus, and include:

  • cold-like symptoms (runny nose, cough, sneezing)
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • sore red eyes, that may be sensitive to light
  • small grey-white spots on the inside of cheeks
  • red-brown blotchy rash; starts a few days after the other symptoms and spreads from the head or upper neck outwards to the rest of the body

Symptoms typically last around 7 to 10 days. The infection can be complicated by ear and chest infection, seizures, blindness and brain infection.

Mumps

Mumps is a contagious viral illness that was common before MMR vaccine was introduced.

Mumps causes painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands which are responsible for producing saliva). Other symptoms which may appear a few days before the swelling include:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • headache
  • pain in the joints

Symptoms usually last 1 to 2 weeks. The infection can be complicated by swelling of the testicles or ovaries, hearing loss and meningitis.

Rubella

Rubella, also known as German measles, is a viral illness which causes a skin rash.

Symptoms of rubella usually last for 7 to 10 days and include:

  • a red-pink spotty rash
  • swollen glands around the head and neck
  • high temperature (fever)
  • cold-like symptoms such as a cough and runny nose
  • aching and painful joints

Rubella in pregnancy can be serious, particularly if caught in early pregnancy. It can cause loss of the baby (miscarriage) or serious problems after the baby is born with their sight, hearing, heart or brain.

Treatment

There is no cure for measles, mumps or rubella. Most people usually recover at home without any treatment.  You can treat symptoms at home by:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated
  • take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat any pain or discomfort

If complications occur, you should seek medical advice as you may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

Further Information

Additional information on measles, mumps and rubella infections and MMR vaccine are available on:

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