What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is one of the leading causes of deaths in children worldwide. There is a vaccine that can prevent measles infection.
What is my risk?
Travellers who are not vaccinated or who are not immune are at risk. Even travelling through international airports, including those in Canada, can put you at risk of exposure to measles.
How is it transmitted?
- Measles is spread by airborne droplets (sneezing or coughing).
- You can also get measles by coming into contact with secretions (fluids) from the nose or throat of a person who is infected.
- Infected individuals are generally contagious four days before and four days after a rash first appears.
What are the symptoms?
- Symptoms can take about 10 to 12 days to appear.
- They usually include fever, cough, runny nose, red and watery eyes, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and small white spots inside the mouth. A rash then appears a few days later on the face and neck, eventually spreading to the hands and feet.
- The most serious complications are severe diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, blindness, and encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which may lead to death.
- Women infected while pregnant are at risk for severe complications and the pregnancy may end in miscarriage or preterm delivery.
Can measles be treated?
No specific treatment exists for measles. However, severe complications can be avoided through supportive care that ensures good nutrition and adequate fluid intake. Antibiotics can also be prescribed to treat complications should they occur. People who recover from measles are immune (protected) for the rest of their lives.
Where is measles a concern?
Measles occurs worldwide. It is still a common disease in most parts of the world. In North, Central and South America, measles has been eliminated; however, cases are occasionally reported and are usually brought from other parts of the world.
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
1) Get vaccinated
a) Infants and Children
- Two doses of measles-containing vaccine are recommended for children:
- The first dose should be given at 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose at 18 months of age or any time thereafter, typically before school entry.
- During outbreaks or for travel to regions where measles occurs, the vaccine may be given as early as six months of age. Under these circumstances, the routine two dose series must be then restarted on or after the first birthday, for a total of three doses.
b) Adolescents and Adults
- Adults born in or after 1970 should make sure that they have received two doses of the vaccine.
- Travellers born before 1970 should receive one dose of measles containing vaccine if they do not have one of the following:
- documented evidence of receiving measles-containing vaccine on or after their first birthday;
- laboratory evidence of immunity (e.g. through blood testing); or
- a history of laboratory confirmed measles disease.
- Wash your hands with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds, as often as possible.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. It’s a good idea to always keep some with you when you travel.
3) Practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette
- Cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs. If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.
4) Monitor your health
- If you develop symptoms similar to measles when travelling or after you return to Canada, you should see a health care provider.
- Describe your symptoms to your health care provider before your appointment, so that he/she can arrange to see you without exposing others. It is best to avoid close contact with other people for four days after the rash first appears to reduce the spread to others who may not be vaccinated.
- Tell your health care provider where you have travelled.
- If you feel ill upon arrival into Canada, please tell the flight attendant before you land or the border services officer as you exit the flight.
- Vaccine-preventable diseases: measles, Public Health Agency of Canada
- Fact sheet on measles, World Health Organization (WHO)