University Health Service

How to get immunized:

Immunization is an effective means to prevent measles, mumps and rubella. See Immunization for details.


On this page:

Are measles, mumps or rubella a problem?   Students who live in residence halls and other group settings are at higher risk for communicable diseases. For this reason, college students should have received two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Read Immunization Recommendations below.

These illnesses are relatively rare in the US now, but before effective vaccines were developed, they caused serious illness, lifelong disabilities and death. For example, the last big rubella epidemic in the US (in 1964) resulted in about 25,000 children with serious complications such as heart defects, deafness, blindness or mental retardation because their mothers had the disease during pregnancy.

Routine childhood immunizations now protect most individuals, but occasionally outbreaks erupt, and individuals who are not fully immunized are at risk. Further, they can expose those most at risk, including pregnant women and fetuses, to these illnesses. Are you protected? See Immunization Recommendations.

How are these illnesses alike and different?  All these illnesses are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses that are transmitted by coughing and sneezing and direct contact with respiratory fluids. All can be prevented by immunization. 

Contagious period:
Measles: 4 days before to 4 days after rash; highly contagious
Mumps: 3 days before to about 9 days after symptoms
Rubella (German measles): 1 week before to 1 week after rash; people who have no symptoms can transmit it

Onset of symptoms:
Measles: 10-12 days after exposure
Mumps: 12-25 days after exposure
Rubella (German measles): Range 14-23 days, average 16-18 days

Common symptoms:
Measles: Rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes last 1-2 weeks
Mumps: Fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite and swelling of the salivary glands,which causes the cheeks to swell
Rubella (German measles): Mild symptoms (slight fever, rash, swelling of neck glands) last about 3 days in children and young adults

Complications:
Measles: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infection in 1/10 children
  • Pneumonia in 1/20 children
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in 1/1,000 children
  • Seizures
  • Death in 1/10,000 children

Mumps: 

  • Meningitis (inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord) in 1/10 children
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which usually goes away without permanent damage
  • Deafness, usually permanent
  • Inflammation of the ovaries and/or breasts
  • Painful inflammation and swelling of the testicles in 1/4 adolescent and adult men, which usually goes away but may cause sterility

Rubella (German measles): 

  • Swelling and aching of joints last 1-2 weeks (especially in adult women)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which usually goes away without permanent damage
  • Purpura (temporary bleeding disorder)

Complications for pregnant women and their babies:
Measles: Miscarriage. In babies premature birth and low birth-weight.
Mumps: Miscarriage.
Rubella (German measles): Miscarriage. In babies, blindness, deafness, heart defects, cataracts, liver and spleen damage, mental retardation,

Immunization recommendations:

  • College students and others should be immunized against measles, mumps and rubella. See Immunizations for how to get immunized. 
  • If you were born after 1956, two doses of a combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) is recommended.
  • Most people born in or before 1956 were infected with measles, mumps and rubella in childhood and are presumed to be immune.
  • People born in the 1970's are less likely to have received two doses.
  • MMR vaccine is a live, attenuated (weakened) vaccine. It was first licensed in the combined form in 1971 and contains the safest and most effective forms of each vaccine.
  • The vaccine is 75-91% effective, even with two doses.
  • Side effects of the vaccine are usually mild and include rash, slight fever, mild swelling of salivary glands, aching or swelling joints (more common in adults). If you become ill within 4 weeks following an immunization, contact your health care provider.
  • MMR vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women, although it is not known to cause illness. Women who are planning pregnancy should wait 3 months after immunization before getting pregnant.

Avoid immunization:

  • When you are ill (e.g. have a fever or don't feel well)
  • If you have systemic allergic reactions, like trouble breathing, to eggs, chicken protein or the antibiotic neomycin
  • Have cancer, leukemia, lymphoma or HIV/AIDS
  • Have received gamma globulin (immune globulin) in the past 3 months

See also from the CDC:

How to demonstrate immunity if needed:  Blood tests called titers can be ordered for each of these diseases individually. Call 734-764-8320 to schedule an appointment. 

If you experience symptoms or may have been exposed:

Contact your health care provider for advice and/or to have your immunization status evaluated. U-M students and other UHS patients can call 734-764-8320, and Nurse Advice by Phone is availale day or night.

Diagnosis may require laboratory tests.

Measles, mumps and rubella cases are tracked to identify and address outbreaks. Please report such illness to your health care provider. There are no consequences for individuals for reporting illnesses, and you may be able to help prevent illness in others by reporting your own.

Treatment involves self-care to reduce symptoms; there are no cures for these viral illnesses.

Stay at home if you are ill to avoid exposing others. In the case of mumps, do not return to school, work or child care for 9 days after symptoms begin.

Prevention of respiratory infections:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • When you are sick, keep your distance from others and if possible, stay at home.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hand) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based cleaner.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • You can print a free Cover Your Cough/Clean Your Hands flyer (PDF) and post it to remind others how to prevent transmission of respiratory infections.

For more information: