Measles (Red Measles)

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious infection caused by the measles virus. It is contagious from 4 days before the rash to 4 days after the onset of rash. Symptoms of measles can develop 7 to 21 days after exposure to an infected person. If you have had contact with someone who has measles, it is important to monitor for symptoms for 21 days after your last exposure. The measles virus lives in the nose and throat of an infected person. Measles is spread when a person comes in contact with an infected person or the air that an infected person has breathed, coughed or sneezed in. The measles virus can live in the air or on surfaces for up to 2 hours. 

Are we concerned about measles in Ottawa?

Cases of measles do occur worldwide and measles can be spread before someone even has symptoms. In Canada, measles is less common because of high vaccination rates, but cases can occur after travel outside of Canada. The Pan-American Health Organization recently issued a statement regarding the increasing risk of measles in the Americas and globally. Measles vaccine coverage for both 1st and 2nd doses across the Americas and elsewhere globally has dropped over the pandemic, including in Canada. Decreases in vaccine coverage rates can increase the risk of vaccine preventable diseases, like measles, especially as travel increases. The COVID-19 pandemic changed access to routine vaccines, especially for children. With lower vaccination rates it is easier for vaccine preventable diseases, like measles to spread. Between 2014 and 2022, there were nine confirmed cases of measles in Ottawa residents. The last case of measles in Ottawa was in 2019.

People at greatest risk for complications related to measles are unvaccinated infants, unvaccinated pregnant women, and people who are immunocompromised. Around 9 out of 10 people who are not fully protected against measles will become infected following close contact with a person with measles. Most complications of a measles infection are rare but they can be dangerous. They can include ear infections, pneumonia and in some rare instances brain swelling and even death.

Symptoms and guidance following exposure

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of measles may develop 7 to 21 days after exposure to an infected person. Symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, cough and red eyes. Drowsiness and irritability can also occur in infants. Small white spots may appear in the mouth and throat. A red blotchy rash begins to appear on the face 3 to 7 days after the start of symptoms, then spreads down the body to the arms and legs. This rash usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Symptoms generally last from 1 to 2 weeks.

Measles is highly contagious from 4 days before the rash to 4 days after the onset of rash. Children diagnosed with measles should be excluded from school or childcare facilities until 4 days after the appearance of the rash.

What should I do if I was exposed to someone with measles or have symptoms of measles?

Depending on the situation, your vaccination history, and other risk factors, a public health official may adviseyou of the need to stay home from work or school, get tested, get preventive treatment or get vaccinated. 

  • Take this self-assessment if you were potentially exposed to the virus. 

  • You can also take it on behalf of someone else. 

  • You will get a recommendation on what to do next. 

  • If this is a medical emergency, call 911. Advise them of your symptoms and if you were exposed to measles. 


The best way you can protect yourself and others against measles is by getting the measles vaccine. This vaccine is combined with the vaccine for mumps and rubella and is known as the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine can also be combined with the varicella vaccine (MMR-V) for some populations. MMR and MMR-V are very safe vaccines and very effective against measles. Two doses of measles vaccination is 99% effective at preventing infection.

Vaccination for children and youth
  • In Ontario, as a part of routine vaccinations children receive two doses of measles vaccine before the age of 7.

    • Children receive one dose of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps & rubella) at 12 months.
    • Children receive a second dose of measles containing vaccine, MMRV vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella & varicella), between 4 and 6 years old.

Where to get vaccinated

  • Family doctors and  walk-in clinics offer vaccines. Call ahead of your visit to make sure that the vaccine is available. If you are looking for a family doctor please register with  Health Care Connect. A nurse will help you find a doctor or nurse practitioner who is accepting new patients in our community. 

Vaccination for adults

  • After being infected with measles, immunity is generally lifelong.
  • Adults born prior to 1970 can be assumed to have acquired natural immunity to measles.
  • Adults born in or after 1970 without evidence of immunity to measles should receive 1 or 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. 
  • A second dose of MMR vaccine is recommended for adults who are at high risk of being exposed or exposing others to the disease.

Where to get vaccinated

  • Family doctors and walk-in clinics offer vaccines. 
  • Primary health care providers play a key role in supporting their patients in remaining up to date with all routine vaccinations (including measles), especially in advance of any upcoming travel.

Vaccination for travellers

  • When travelling outside Canada, you may be at risk of exposure to measles depending on the places you are visiting.
  • Consult a health care provider at least six weeks before you travel to review your immunization history and make sure you are up to date with your vaccines.
  • You may need more vaccines (besides measles), depending on your age, activities, workplace, and health conditions. Preventing disease through vaccination is a lifelong process.

What to expect after receiving the measles vaccine

Reactions to the MMR (or MMRV) vaccine are mild and temporary. They include pain and redness at the injection site, fever less than 39°C. Serious side effects are rare.

Reporting and updating your immunization record

Parent(s)/Guardian(s) are responsible for updating Ottawa Public Health (OPH) every time their child receives immunizations given by their health care provider. Providing immunization updates to OPH helps protect you and the public in case there is ever an outbreak in our community. Doctors do not report your immunizations to OPH. 

Health care providers do not report vaccination records to Ottawa Public Health.

Ways to report your vaccination record to Ottawa Public Health

  • Submit online using the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool or the CANImmunize App.
  • Call 613-580-6744 and select the option to discuss immunizations. Our phoneline is open Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm 
  • Mail: Ottawa Public Health, Immunization Unit, Mail Code 26-42, 100 Constellation Drive, Ottawa ON, K2G 6J8 
  • Fax: 613-580-9660 

Unsure of your vaccination status?

A picture of Ontario's Personal Immunization RecordCheck your yellow Personal Immunization Record or your records on the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool to see whether you got the required vaccines for measles when you were a child. If you are unsure, speak to your health care provider or the health agency outside of Ontario if that is where you would have received your vaccines.

What is Ottawa Public Health’s role?

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) follows up with all people who have suspected or confirmed measles and their contacts. If there are cases in Ottawa, OPH will work with health system partners, workplaces, and school boards to limit the spread of the virus. OPH also offers routine immunization services for children and youth who live in Ottawa and who are facing barriers in getting their routine immunizations in the community.

Background information 




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