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Colorado is at risk for a measles outbreak. Colorado ranked as the worst state in the nation for kindergartners being vaccinated against measles during the 2017-2018 school year. For information about vaccines for school-aged children, click here. 

Measles is a serious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It causes a rash and fever and is very contagious. It can sometimes cause serious complications and in some cases can be deadly.

Measles is Common

From year to year, measles cases can range from roughly less than 100 to a couple of hundred cases in the entire United States. Colorado typical has one measles case per year. 

Symptoms of Measles

Measles starts with a fever that can get very high.  Some of the other symptoms that may occur are:

  • Cough, runny nose and red eyes
  • Rash of tiny, red spots that start at the head and spread to the rest of the body
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infection

Symptoms usually develop 8 to 14 days after exposure to the measles virus ( range of 7 to 21 days).

Some people think of measles as just a little rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years of age. There is no way to tell in advance the severity of the symptoms your child will experience.

  • About 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized
  • 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage
  • 1 to 3 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care

How Measles Spreads
Measles spreads when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes.  It is very contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, up to 2 hours after that person is gone.  And you can catch measles from an infected person even before they have a measles rash. Almost everyone who has not had the MMR shot will get measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.

Preventing Measles
The best way to protect against measles is to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot. MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles. Doctors recommend that all children get the MMR shot. Children need two doses of MMR vaccine for the best protection. First dose at 12-15 months of age and the second dose 4-6 years of age. 

Adults born in 1963 or later are likely to have been vaccinated as children. Adults born before 1957 are likely to have immunity from measles from either having had measles as children or by being exposed to it from others. Adults who work with children should ensure they are fully vaccinated. 

Measles Vaccine

The MMR vaccine can not cause measles. Sometimes the vaccine causes a mild rash or fever as the immune system responds to the vaccine to create immunity, but this is not measles disease and cannot be spread to others.

When to Seek Care
Call your doctor immediately if you suspect you or your child has measles. Parents, childcare educators, teachers, and school health technicians can call the Health Department with questions. 

Diagnosing Measles
Your doctor can usually diagnose measles based on the disease's characteristic rash as well as a small, bluish-white spot on a bright red background — Koplik's spot — on the inside lining of the cheek. A blood test can confirm whether the illness is truly measles.

Treatment for Measles
There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles.  Medical care is supportive and helps relieve symptoms and address complications such as bacterial infections.

Other Considerations
If you are diagnosed with measles you will be asked to stay in your home for 4 days after the rash started.  Measles cases should be excluded from childcare/school and isolate themselves at home for 4 days after rash onset.

Public Health Investigation
Public Health will investigate cases to try to determine the source of the illness and to identify people who may be at risk for developing measles.  Post-exposure vaccination with the MMR vaccine is recommended for persons without evidence of measles immunity. Immune globulin may be recommended for susceptible individuals who are at high risk for developing complications, particularly children younger than 12 months of age, pregnant women and immunocompromised persons.

Contact Health

The Health Department has three locations:

Fort Collins office
1525 Blue Spruce Drive
Fort Collins, CO 80524
(970) 498-6700
Fax: (970) 498-6772

Loveland office
200 Peridot Avenue
Loveland, CO 80537
(970) 619-4580
Fax: (970) 619-4589

Estes Park office
1601 Brodie Avenue
Estes Park, CO 80517
(970) 577-2050
Fax: (970) 577-2060