Measles

In the news

Measles outbreaks are occurring in communities and on college campuses throughout the United States.

Since January 1, 2019, increased numbers of measles cases have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of cases is the greatest reported since 1992 and since measles was declared "eliminated" in 2000.

View the latest measles-related updates, statistics, and public health information from the CDC.

About measles

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is spread via coughing or sneezing. Common symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes, along with a classic rash. Typically, symptoms will appear one to two weeks after exposure in individuals who are not immune.

Measles prevention for Cornell students

The best way to stay safe is to be aware of your vaccination status and to get adequate vaccinations if you are not up to date.

U.S. students most likely received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as children. If you are not sure about your immunity status, please log in to mycornellhealth to see your vaccine history, or connect with your primary care provider (PCP) at Cornell Health. You are considered immune if you've received two doses of the MMR vaccine, which is 97% effective against measles, or have had a titer (a blood test that demonstrates immunity). 

College students in New York state are required to demonstrate immunity, have or get the vaccine, or complete a medical or religious exemption. Ninety-eight percent of Cornell students are vaccinated adequately with the MMR vaccine, which puts our community in the best possible position to prevent a measles outbreak.

Measles prevention for staff and faculty

Employees most likely received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as children. If you are unsure of your vaccination history or know that you are not up to date, we encourage you to check your immunization status, contact your primary care provider to request a titer test (a blood test to determine if you are immune) or MMR vaccination, or get the MMR vaccination at Cornell Health (offered September-December, 2019). Learn more about these options here.

It is important to be aware that should an outbreak occur on campus, exposed individuals without records of immunization could be subject to county-mandated quarantines or exclusions that could impact one’s ability to remain on, or return to, campus until such restrictions are lifted.

Measles preparedness at Cornell Health

Cornell Health, Environmental Health & Safety, and the Tompkins County Health Department have been working hard to safeguard our campus and ensure that we are prepared to respond in the event of an outbreak at Cornell. Our medical staff are equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms of measles and are kept up to date on the public health outbreak notifications from the CDC and state and local health departments.

FAQ

Q: What is measles? How contagious is it?

A: According to the CDC, measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. The measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where an infected person has coughed or sneezed.

If others breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, and then touch their eyes, noses or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, nine out of every ten people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after the rash appears.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

A: Measles isn’t just a little rash. Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. Measles typically begins with:

  • high fever (may spike to more than 104°)

  • cough

  • runny nose (coryza), and

  • red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)

Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet.

  • Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots.

  • The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body.

  • When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.

Q: What is considered a measles “outbreak”?

A: Because measles is so highly contagious, a single laboratory-confirmed case of measles on Cornell’s campus is considered an outbreak.

Q. What happens if I have been exposed to someone who has measles? Will I still be able to come to work or school?

A: It depends. The Tompkins County and New York State Health Departments will work with Cornell University to assess the immune status of exposed individuals (through review of vaccination records and documentation of immunity). If you are unable to prove immunity you may receive the MMR vaccine or immunoglobulin. Susceptible individuals living on campus who do not receive the vaccine or immunoglobulin may be quarantined. Alternatively, susceptible individuals may be excluded from campus for 21 days (one incubation period) after the onset of rash in the last case of measles. The health department will provide susceptible individuals with information on prevention, signs and symptoms, and what to do if they become ill.

Q: Am I protected against measles? How can I prepare myself?

A: Know your MMR status. You are protected from measles if you have written documentation (i.e. health records) showing at least one of the following:

  • You received two doses of measles-containing vaccine (e.g., MMR vaccine).
  • A laboratory confirmed that you had measles at some point in your life.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you are immune to (protected against) measles (e.g., titer check).
  • You were born before 1957.

Q: What should I do if I’m unsure whether I’m immune to measles?

A: If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella). Another option is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re immune. If you are a manager or supervisor, encourage your staff to find their records and keep them handy, or get vaccinated.

Q: Do I ever need a booster vaccine?

A: No; if you received two doses of measles vaccine as a child, according to the U.S. vaccination schedule, you are protected for life and do not need a booster dose.

If you’re not sure whether you are fully vaccinated, talk with your physician.

Q: I only got one dose of measles vaccine as a child. Do I need a second dose?

A: If you were born after 1957 you need at least one dose of measles vaccine unless a laboratory confirmed that you had past measles infection or are immune to measles. Certain adults may need two doses. 

If you’re not sure whether you are up to date on measles vaccine, talk with your physician. More information about who needs a measles vaccine.

Q: If I received the killed measles vaccine in the 1960s, do I need to be re-vaccinated with the current, live measles vaccine?

A: Yes, if you know that you received the killed measles vaccine (an earlier formulation of measles vaccine that is no longer used) you should speak with your doctor about getting re-vaccinated with the current, live measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Q: How effective is the vaccine?

A: The measles vaccine is very effective. Two doses of measles vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus. One dose is about 93% effective.

Q. Could I still get measles if I am fully vaccinated?

A: Very few people—about three out of 100—who get two doses of measles vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Experts aren’t sure why. It could be that their immune systems didn’t respond as well as it should have to the vaccine. But the good news is, fully vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness. And fully vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.

Q. I've been exposed to someone who has measles. What should I do?

A: Immediately call your doctor and let them know that you have been exposed to someone who has measles. Your doctor can:

  • make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk, and
  • determine if you are immune to measles based on your vaccination record, age or laboratory evidence.

If you are not immune to measles, MMR vaccine or a medicine called immune globulin may help reduce your risk of developing measles. Your doctor can advise and monitor you for signs and symptoms of measles.

If you are not immune and do not get MMR or immune globulin, you should stay away from settings where there are susceptible people (such as school, hospital or childcare) until your doctor says it’s okay to return. This will help avoid spreading measles to others.

Q: I think I have measles. What should I do?

A: Immediately call your doctor and let them know about your symptoms so that they can tell you what to do next. Your doctor can make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk.

Tell your health care provider if you spent time with other people in the days before or after the measles rash began. These people may be at risk of getting measles themselves.

Q: My doctor or someone from the health department told me that I have measles. What should I do?

A: If you have measles, you should stay home for four days after you develop the rash. Staying home is an important way to not spread measles to other people. Ask your physician when it is safe to be around other people again.

You should also:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and put your used tissue in the trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid sharing drinks or eating utensils.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables and counters. Standard household disinfectants will readily kill the measles virus.
  • Call your physician if you are concerned about your symptoms.