MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)

What is measles?

Measles is a disease caused by a virus that is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Measles virus is highly contagious and can remain so for up to 2 hours in the air or on surfaces.

Symptoms of measles are rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Some people who become sick with measles also get an ear infection, diarrhea, or a serious lung infection, such as pneumonia. Although severe cases are rare, measles can cause swelling of the brain and even death. Measles can be especially severe in infants and in people who are malnourished or who have weakened immune systems (such as from HIV infection or cancer or from certain drugs or therapies).

Who is at risk?

Measles remains a common disease in many parts of the world, including Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. In the United States, most measles cases result from international travel. The disease is brought into the United States by people who get infected in other countries. Measles outbreaks can result when returning travelers spread the disease to people who have not been vaccinated or have not had measles as a child. Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of getting infected when he or she travels internationally.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious disease that is spread when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. Sharing items, like cups or drink cans, with infected people can also spread the virus. The virus can also live on items and surfaces touched by an infected person for several hours.

Symptoms of mumps are fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, and swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears or jaw on one or both sides of the face (parotitis). Most people with mumps recover fully. However, mumps can occasionally cause complications, such as swelling of the brain, testicles in males, and ovaries and breasts in females, and temporary or permanent deafness.

Who is at risk?

Because the mumps vaccine is not used everywhere, mumps is a common disease in many countries. The risk of mumps for travelers is high in many countries of the world, including industrialized countries, such as the United Kingdom, which has had several outbreaks since 2004, and Japan. Risk is especially high for travelers older than 1 year who have not had mumps vaccine.

What is rubella?

Rubella, also called German measles, is a disease spread by the coughs and sneezes of infected people. Symptoms include rash and fever for 2 to 3 days. Some people do not feel sick. If a pregnant woman gets rubella virus, her baby could have birth defects such as deafness, cataracts, heart defects, mental disabilities, and organ damage.

Who is at risk?

Rubella has been eliminated in the United States. Travelers going outside the United States are at risk for rubella. Because rubella infections without symptoms are common, travelers may be unaware that they have been in contact with an infected person.

What can travelers do to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella?

Get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine

  • People who cannot show that they were vaccinated as children and who have never had these diseases should be vaccinated.
  • Infants 6 to 11 months of age should have 1 dose of MMR vaccine if traveling internationally.
    • Children in the United States routinely receive MMR vaccination at 12 to 15 months of age.
    • Infants vaccinated before 12 months of age should be revaccinated on or after the first birthday with 2 doses, separated by at least 28 days.
  • Children 12 months of age or older should have 2 doses, separated by at least 28 days.
  • Adolescents and adults who have not had these diseases or have not been vaccinated should get 2 doses, separated by at least 28 days.
  • Two doses of MMR vaccine is nearly 100% effective at preventing measles and 90% effective at preventing mumps.
  • MMR has been used safely and effectively since the 1970s. A few people experience mild, temporary adverse reactions, such as joint pain, from the vaccine, but serious side effects are extremely rare. There is no link between MMR and autism.

Practice hygiene and cleanliness:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, clean your hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.

Page reviewed on: Mar 09, 2017

Page reviewed by: Jessie L. Leyse, MD