Measles, mumps and rubella

This page provides a brief summary of the disease and the vaccine that is available to prevent it. Links to more detailed information are provided at the bottom of the page.

What are measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) are highly infectious diseases caused by viruses.

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How do people get measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) are spread by close contact with an infected person.

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What are the symptoms of measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles causes fever, cough, red and painful eyes, and a rash.

Mumps causes swollen neck glands and a fever.

Rubella (German measles) causes a rash, fever and swollen glands. If a pregnant woman gets rubella in early pregnancy it may cause major birth defects in the baby.

If 1000 people get measles

  • 1 or 2 will die
  • 50 will get an ear infection
  • 40 will get pneumonia or bronchitis
  • 5 will have convulsions (fits)
  • 160 will get diarrhoea
  • 1 will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) For every 10 children who develop encephalitis - 1 will die and - up to 4 will have brain damage.

1 in 8000 children under two years of age get SSPE (brain degeneration), which may be many years after measles and is always fatal.

1 in 6000 will get a blood clotting problem.

If 1000 people get mumps:

  • 50 will get viral meningitis
  • 1 will get encephalitis (brain inflammation)
  • 400 men who have mumps will get swollen testicles
  • 300 will get fever, a headache, and swollen salivary glands under the jaw, and

1 in 20,000 will  become deaf.

Mumps can also rarely cause infertility in men.

Of the people who get rubella (German measles):

  • About 1 in 2 will get a rash and painful swollen glands; and more than half of women with rubella get painful joints.
  • 1 in 3000 get thrombocytopenia (bruising or bleeding of the skin);
  • 1 in 6000 get encephalitis (inflammation of the brain);
  • If a pregnant woman gets rubella in early pregnancy 9 in 10 babies will have a major birth defect, such as deafness, blindness, brain damage or heart defects.

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Who should get MMR vaccine?

MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). It is a live vaccine which means it contains weakened forms of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses.

When the measles vaccine was introduced in Ireland in 1985, the number of cases of measles dropped from 10,000 in that year to 201 cases in 1987.  Measles is highly infectious and the number of cases of measles and the complications of measles would increase rapidly if children were not given the MMR vaccine.

MMR vaccine is given to babies at 12 months of age.

Children should get a second dose at 4-5 years of age. This is usually given at school by the HSE’s school immunisation teams but in some areas it is given by the child’s GP.

Two doses of MMR vaccine are required to give the best protection.

Some children may have missed their two doses of MMR vaccine and this has led to recent outbreaks of mumps and measles.

Older children and young adults who have not completed (or are not sure they have completed) their two dose MMR vaccination schedule should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

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mmr graphic 

Who should not get the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is safe for most people.

However, you or your child should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous MMR vaccine or any part of the vaccine (including gelatin for the MMRVaxPro MMR vaccine) or a severe allergic reaction to an antibiotic called neomycin.

The vaccine should not be given to anyone who is pregnant.

You should delay getting the vaccine if your child:

  • is ill with a fever
  • has had varicella vaccine, within the previous four weeks.
  • is on high dose steroids
  • is having any treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • is on treatment with Protopic ointment for severe eczema
  • has any illness or disease that affects their immune system
  • has had recent blood or blood products

If your child is on any of the treatments listed above you should discuss vaccination with your child’s doctor.

If a person’s immune system is severely affected, by illness or treatment, they may not be able to get the vaccine.

If you have any concerns, talk to your family doctor or public health nurse.

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Should my child get MMR vaccine if they have an egg allergy?

Yes - MMR vaccine can be given to children with a severe egg allergy.  A severe allergy to the MMR vaccine is extremely rare even in children with a serious egg allergy.  It is not necessary to avoid the MMR vaccine if your child dislikes eggs or has diarrhoea or stomach pains after eating eggs and you do not need to take any special precautions.  If you have any doubts, talk to the doctor or nurse giving the immunisation.

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Is there a link between the MMR vaccine and autism or bowel disease?

We know that vaccines don’t cause autism, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, allergies, asthma or attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity). However, when things happen around the time  vaccines are given we can think that there is a link between the two things. For example, the signs of autism usually become noticeable at about the age when children are given the MMR vaccine, but one does not cause the other.  The majority of children are immunised, therefore children with and children without conditions such as autism, asthma or attention deficit disorder are just as likely to have received the same immunisations.

Over the past 30 years, more than 500 million doses of MMR vaccine have been given in over 90 countries.  Experts from around the world, including the World Health Organization, agree that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or inflammatory bowel disease.

Studies to see if children who have been immunised are more likely to have these conditions have shown that there is no link between the conditions and vaccines.  Extensive research into the MMR vaccine, involving thousands of children, was carried out in the UK, the USA, Sweden, and Finland.  This research showed that there is no link between MMR and autism.  A study looked at the vaccination records of every child born in Denmark from 1991 to 1998 (over half a million children). During that time, 82% of children born in Denmark received the MMR vaccine. The researchers found that the risk of autism was the same in immunised children and in children who had not been immunised.  

The General Medical Council in the UK in May 2010 decided that Dr Andrew Wakefield should be removed from the medical register after finding him guilty of serious professional misconduct and unethical behaviour in relation to research he carried out on children.  Dr Wakefield used the results of this research to falsely represent a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Several professional organisations dedicated to finding a cure for autism have published position statements regarding autism and vaccines.

Autism Speaks (2015), the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organisation has stated,

“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated”.

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What to expect after getting MMR vaccine?

After getting the vaccine, your child may have discomfort, redness or swelling around the area where the injection was given. They may be irritable and have a fever.

If this happens you can give them liquid infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen. You should also give them plenty to drink. Make sure they are not too warm and that their clothes are not rubbing against the injection area.

Children usually recover from these minor side effects within a day or two

Of the people who are immunised:

  • 1 in 10 will have discomfort, redness or swelling where the injection was given, or will have a fever
  • 1 in 20 will get a rash six to 12 days later(this is not contagious)
  • 1 in 20 get swollen glands, a stiff neck, or joint pains
  • 1 in 100 may develop swelling of the salivary glands under the jaw in the third week after vaccination (this is not contagious)
  •  
  • 1 in 1000 will have a convulsion (fit)
  • 1 in 22,000 will get a temporary blood clotting problem / bruising or bleeding
  • 1 in 10,000,000 may develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Serious side effects are very rare.

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If my child gets mini measles/mini mumps, can they spread the disease?

No.

The MMR vaccine does not shed, therefore there is no risk of spreading measles infection after vaccination. There have been no reports of vaccinated people passing infection to contacts. 

It is very important that every child receives the MMR vaccine on time so they are protected from measles, mumps and rubella disease.

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How does MMR vaccine work?

The vaccine works by stimulating the immune system to build up protection against these diseases.

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How effective is MMR vaccine?

The full course of MMR vaccine offers good protection against measles for 99% of people, against rubella (German measles) for 95% of people and against mumps for 88% of people.

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For more information

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This page was updated on 3 July 2019