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Learn about measles, who is at risk, and how it spreads.

About measles

Measles is a virus that spreads easily through the air when someone who has measles coughs or sneezes. Measles is sometimes called rubeola or red measles.

It can cause:

  • a high fever
  • a cough
  • a runny nose
  • red eyes
  • a blotchy, red rash

Measles can be dangerous because:

  • One in 10 people with measles will get middle ear or lung infections.
  • One in 1,000 people with measles will get encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which can lead to seizures, deafness, or brain damage.
  • Two to 3 of every 1,000 people with measles will die.
  • In 1963, before widespread immunization, measles caused about 60,000 cases each year in Canada.

Learn more about measles.

Who is most at risk?

If you have not had measles in the past or if you have not been fully immunized against it, you are at risk of getting measles.

Measles tends to be more severe in babies and adults.

If you were born before 1970, there is a good chance you are immune to measles, as you were likely exposed to measles when it circulated widely before 1970.

How it spreads

Measles is an extremely contagious disease, spread easily through the air.

You do not need to be in direct contact with someone who is infected. You can get measles just by passing through a room or location where a person who is infected was up to 2 hours before. The person who is infected does not still need to be there to put you at risk of disease.

Measles can also be spread through coughing and sneezing.

If you have measles, you can spread the disease starting 1 day before showing any symptoms, which is usually about 3 to 7 days before the rash appears. You can spread the disease until 4 days after the appearance of the rash.

Current as of: June 30, 2023
Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services
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