When you have your first child, the doctors likely coached (or will coach) you on which vaccines your baby needs and when. One of the most well-known and necessary is the standard “MMR vaccine” which kids first get around 1 year old. But what is the MMR vaccine, what do you need to know about the diseases it prevents, how well does it guard your kids against measles, mumps, and rubella? Keep reading to find out.
What is the MMR Vaccine?
The MMR Vaccine is a 2-dose shot that works to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. The vaccine we use today was first licensed by Merck in 1973 and continues to be our best defense against the measles, mumps, and rubella.
When Should My Child Be Vaccinated?
Doctors recommend your child get 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, with an initial dose at 12-15 months and a booster at 4-6 years. Infants 6 months to 11 months old should have 1 dose of MMR shot only if traveling abroad.
Are there Side Effects?
Most children don’t have any side effects from the MMR shot. When side effects do occur, they are typically are usually very mild, such as a fever, rash, soreness or swelling where the shot was given, or temporary pain and stiffness in the joints (mostly in teens and adults). More serious side effects are rare. These may include high fever that could cause a seizure.
Can the MMR Vaccine Cause Autism?
While the debate is highly contentious, no credible evidence suggests a link between autism and the MMR Vaccine. The original research put forth by Dr. Andrew Jeremy Wakefield was quickly discredited, his paper withdrawn, and his license revoked. Following the controversy, new studies studies by organizations such as Center for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine have shown there is no connection between the the MMR Vaccine and Autism. For more information on their findings, visit the Center for Disease Control.
Measles (Source, CDC)
What is It? Measles is a highly contagious virus spread from person to person by infectious droplets in the air. It takes an average of 10–12 days from exposure to the first symptom, which is usually fever. The measles rash doesn’t usually appear until approximately 14 days after exposure, 2–3 days after the fever begins.
How Common is It? Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. By 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country with 667 people contracting the disease in 2014. CDC defines measles elimination as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. Measles is no longer endemic (constantly present) in the United States, however, due to an increase in travel to countries with Measles and a rise in anti-vaccination rhetoric, the disease has begun to resurface.
What are the Symptoms?
- Fever (first symptom)
- Runny nose
- Loss of appetite
- Pink Eye
- Rash that begins at the hairline, moves to the face and upper neck, and proceeds down the body.
How Effective is MMR Against Measles? About 3 out of 100 people, however, fully vaccinated people who do contract measles are significantly more likely to have a milder illness. Vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.
How Serious are the Measles? Only about 1 in every 5,000 people with measles will die as a result of the infection, however, serious complications can occur. One in fifteen children will develop:
- Diarrhoea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration
- Middle ear infection (otitis media) , which can cause earache
- Eye infection (conjunctivitis)
- Inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis )
- Pneumonia , bronchitis and croup – infections of the airways and lungs
- Fits caused by a fever (febrile seizures)
Less common complications of measles include:
- Liver infection (hepatitis)
- Misalignment of the eyes (squint) – if the virus affects the nerves and muscles of the eye
- Infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the brain itself (encephalitis)
In the rarest cases, measles can lead to:
- Optic neuritis, an infection of the optic nerve,which can lead to vision loss
- Heart and nervous system problems
- Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a fatal brain complication which can occur several years after measles. This is extremely rare, occurring in only 1 in every 25,000 cases.
Do My Kids Need to See a Doctor? If you think you or child has this condition you should see a doctor within 48 hours, even though they cannot prescribe medication.
What’s the Treatment? Unless there are complications, there are no specific treatment for measles, infected children need bed rest, fluids, and fever management. Someone with measles is advised to stay home for four days after they develop their rash. Staying home is an important way to not spread measles to other people. Talk to your doctor to discuss when it is safe to return.
Mumps (Source: CDC)
What is It? Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which belongs to a family of viruses known as ‘paramyxoviruses’. It spreads easily by close contact or by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms typically appear 16-18 days after infection.
How Common is It? In 2018, the U.S. reported 2,251 cases of mumps to the CDC. However, it is not mandatory to report the Mumps.
What are the Symptoms?
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides (parotitis)
- Symptoms typically last 7-10 days
How Effective is MMR Against Mumps? MMR vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and complications caused by the disease. Two doses of the vaccine are 88% (range: 66 to 95%) effective at protecting against mumps; one dose is 78% (range: 49% to 92%) effective.
How Serious is Mumps? That all depends. Some people who get mumps have very mild or no symptoms, and often they do not know they have the disease. Most people with mumps recover completely in a few weeks, and the disease is rarely deadly. However, mumps can cause serious and long-term health complications including meningit
is, temporary or permanent hearing loss, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), orchitis (swelling of the testicles) in males who have reached puberty, oophoritis (swelling of the ovaries) and/or mastitis (swelling of the breasts) in females who have reached puberty.
Do My Kids Need to See a Doctor? If you suspect that you or your child has mumps, it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
What’s the Treatment for Mumps? There is no treatment for mumps, which is why vaccination is strongly recommended. Treatment focuses on relieving symptom relief, such as:
- Getting plenty of bed rest until your symptoms have passed
- Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, to relieve any pain (children aged 16 or under should not be given aspirin)
- Drinking plenty of water, but avoiding acidic drinks such as fruit juice that can irritate your parotid glands
- Applying a warm or cool compress to swollen glands to help reduce pain
- Eating soft foods that don’t require a lot of chewing
Rubella (Source: CDC)
What is It? Rubella (also known as ‘German measles’) is a viral infection that used to be common in children. It is usually a mild infection. Rubella is caused by the rubella virus that’s spread through personal contact, or by coughing and sneezing. Rubella’s incubation period is between 2 and 3 weeks with its infectious period lasting from 1 week before the rash first appears until at least 4 days after it’s gone.
How Common is It? Extremely rare. Today, less than 10 people in the United States are reported as having rubella each year.
What are the Symptoms? In children, rubella is usually mild, with few noticeable symptoms. For children who do have symptoms, a red rash is typically the first sign. The rash generally first appears on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body, and lasts about three days. Other symptoms that may occur 1 to 5 days before the rash appears include:
- A low-grade fever of 102 degrees or lower
- Mild pink eye (redness or swelling of the white of the eye)
- General discomfort
- Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes
- Runny nose
How Effective is MMR Against Rubella? One dose of the MMR vaccine is about 97% effective at preventing rubella.
How Serious is Rubella?
Up to 70% of women who get rubella may experience arthritis, however this is rare in children and men. In rare cases, rubella can cause serious problems, including brain infections and bleeding problems.
Do My Kids Need to See a Doctor? Yes. While rubella is rarely serious, a saliva or blood sample is required to confirm a diagnosis.
What’s the Treatment for Rubella? There is no specific medicine to treat rubella or make the disease go away faster. In many cases, symptoms are mild. For others, mild symptoms can be managed with bed rest and medicines for fever, such as acetaminophen.