Measles – Mumps – Rubella (MMR)

Measles is a severe viral illness. It causes a bad rash, high fever, cough, and inflammation of the mucous membranes particularly in the eyes and mouth. It is quite often complicated by pneumonia, and sporadically too by inflammation of the brain, which can cause convulsions, brain damage, or death. The younger a child is when they get Measles the sicker they are, and the greater the risk of complications. Before immunizations almost all children got measles. There were 3-4 million cases yearly nationwide. Victims were usually sick for 1-2 weeks, and about 1 out of every 1000 of them died or suffered permanent harm. After experiencing a falling rate since the introduction of vaccine in the early 1960’s, the United States saw a series of Measles epidemics in the late‘80’s and early ‘90’s, and now again there was a recent outbreak in Massachusetts in 2011.

Mumps usually causes fever, headache, stiff neck and swollen salivary glands both under the chin and on the side of the neck/face in front of the ears. The older a victim is the sicker they tend to be, and Mumps in a teenage or older male can include swelling of the testicles as well. All this is usually self limited and harmless, although occasionally hearing loss or impaired fertility can result.

Rubella, or “German Measles”, is a very mild viral illness which causes just a faint rash, low grade fever, mild joint pains and slightly swollen glands in the neck. It resolves in a few days without harm. The reason we fear Rubella is because it can cause miscarriage, terrible birth defects, and mental retardation in the newborn if a mother gets it while pregnant. Newborn “Rubella Syndrome” used to be the most common cause of birth defects in this country, and it is now extremely rare because of vaccination.

There are no effective medicines/treatments for Measles, Mumps, or Rubella. The MMR vaccine is a combination vaccine that provides protection against Measleas, Mumps & Rubella. The MMR is made of live but weakened versions of the viruses. Thus, the most common side effects are echoes of the diseases themselves – a faint rash that lasts a few days, a low-grade fever, and some swollen glands in the neck. These things happen in about 10% of recipients about 5-14 days after getting the shot. More rarely a few children may have high fevers, joint pain or swelling, or seizures and irritation of the brain – all of which seem to clear up without leaving any permanent damage.

There is no association between MMR and autism.

For more information, please visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at: