Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) | The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Parents PACK

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)

General information

Please visit the Vaccine Education Center for general information about MMR and the vaccine.

Additional information from past issues of the Parents PACK newsletter

Measles: What you should know

What are the symptoms of measles?

People with measles may have some or all of the following:

How does measles spread?

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, measles viruses are spread in the small respiratory droplets. If a susceptible person breathes in these droplets or touches an infected surface and then puts his hand in his mouth or nose, he is likely to get measles.

How contagious is measles?

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. In fact, if 100 susceptible people are in a room with someone who is infected, 90 are likely to become ill with measles. Further, if someone who has not had measles enters an elevator or other small space up to two hours after an infected person has left, they can still “catch” measles.

Are there complications from measles infections?

Yes. About 3 of every 10 people who get measles will develop complications such as:

Pregnant women who are infected with measles can miscarry, deliver early, or have a low-birth-weight baby. People who are immune compromised are at risk of having prolonged and severe illness.

Does the vaccine work?

Yes. After one dose of the vaccine about 96 of every 100 people will be protected. The second dose of vaccine is recommended to increase that number to almost 100 people.

What if I suspect measles?

Call your healthcare provider and mention your concern. Because measles is so contagious, providers typically do not want infected patients sharing a waiting room with other patients. This is particularly important for infants who are too young to receive the vaccine.


Mumps vaccine virus

The mumps vaccine used in the U.S. today was made by Dr. Maurice Hilleman. When his young daughter, Jeryl Lynn, came to him during the night ill with mumps, he went to his lab, got materials to swab her throat, and later, returned to his lab to grow the virus that was ultimately used to make the vaccine. He called this the Jeryl Lynn strain of mumps vaccine.


Mumps vaccine and people born before 1957

Q. I am over 50 and don't remember getting mumps or a vaccine for it. What should I do given the current outbreak ?

A. Mumps was so widespread before a vaccine was licensed that anyone born before 1957 is considered to be immune from mumps even if they do not recall having the disease. If you are still concerned, talk to your doctor about the possibility of getting the vaccine.


MMR vaccine and pregnancy

Q. I am pregnant with my second child and my 1-year-old recently got his MMR vaccine. Someone told me that my son's vaccine could cause my unborn child to suffer birth defects from rubella. Is this true?

A. No. The MMR vaccine can be given to children who live with pregnant women or immuno-compromised people. While the MMR vaccine contains live measles, mumps and rubella viruses, they are weakened so much that they are not usually transmitted from the recipient to others. Even if the virus was transmitted, it is too weak to cause harm.


Immunity to measles, mumps and rubella after immunization

Q.  Is there a test to prove that the MMR vaccine has worked in an individual?

A. Yes. A person can find out if he or she has developed an immune response to each of the three diseases that the MMR vaccine prevents (measles, mumps and rubella) by getting a blood sample drawn. A clinical laboratory can then check for the presence of antibodies for each of the diseases.

However, if there is a question about immunity, doctors typically will recommend receipt of the vaccine rather than prescribing the blood test first. This is done for a few reasons. First, a second dose of vaccine will not harm the person and is, in fact, likely to boost any response that developed previously. Second, if the blood work comes back negative, a second needle (and appointment) will be necessary to get the vaccine. Finally, the cost of the vaccine is likely to be similar to that of getting the blood work, so if a vaccine is then necessary, the cost will also be higher when the same could have been accomplished by just administering the vaccine. 

Any questions about individual immunity should be discussed with your healthcare provider, so that individual situations can be handled most appropriately.


Individual components of MMR?

Q. I am concerned about my child’s upcoming appointment for MMR immunization, and I heard that it is available in individual components in the UK. Is the MMR vaccine available as individual components in the U.S.?

A. The MMR vaccine is not available as individual components in the U.S. However, the MMR vaccine has been studied by many scientists around the world and there is no indication that it causes autism, as originally purported by a doctor from the UK. This doctor was later found to have falsified data, so he lost his license to practice and his paper was removed by the journal that published it. His hypothesis has caused much damage; as a result, some parents did not vaccinate their children and some of those children were hospitalized or died.



Rash after MMR vaccine

Q. A child in my daycare developed a rash after receiving the MMR vaccine. Can I contract or transmit measles, mumps or rubella to other children in the daycare?

A. No, you cannot pass on the diseases by touching the rash. You could only transmit them to others who are susceptible if you are sick with the diseases. It is likely that you are already immune, either by previously having the diseases or from receiving vaccines. However, if you are unsure about your immunity, check with your doctor.


Rubella parties

Following our December 2010 trivia question regarding which disease parents wanted their children to share before there was a vaccine, we had a reader tell us about rubella parties she remembered as a young girl. That way she could become immune before she was old enough to become pregnant. While rubella was not typically a severe childhood illness, it could be fatal when pregnant women were infected. Before the vaccine, each year about 20,000 babies were harmed when their mothers were infected during pregnancy.

From her recollections, rubella parties, unlike the chickenpox gatherings mentioned in the trivia question, were recommended by pediatricians because at that time there was not a vaccine available. In contrast, doctors never recommended sharing chickenpox because each year previously healthy children died from chickenpox. Today, vaccines are available for both rubella and chickenpox, so doctors and parents can be assured that children are becoming immune to these diseases in the safest way possible.

Do you have memories related to sharing infectious diseases before a vaccine was available? If so, let us know:

Updated: January 2013

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