PrintPrint | Follow us on

Facebook Twitter YouTube
In this section:

Illnesses and infections

Tests and treatments

Vaccines for children and youth

General Information

Share this page:

MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccine

What is measles?

Measles is a very contagious infection caused by a virus (a germ that can make people sick). Sometimes measles is called “red measles” (or rubeola). It should not be confused with “German measles,” which is another name for rubella.

What are the symptoms?

  • Measles begins with a fever, runny nose, a hacking cough and very red eyes. You may think your child has a cold.
  • In a few days, a reddish blotchy rash begins around the face and spreads down to the chest, arms and legs. Bright light may cause eye pain.
  • Measles can cause an ear infection or pneumonia (a serious disease where fluid fills the lungs).
  • In severe cases, measles can cause swelling of the brain, which is called encephalitis. This can lead to seizures, permanent brain damage, hearing loss, or death.

How do measles spread?

Measles spreads:

  • Through direct contact —such as kissing, touching, holding hands or sharing glassware or utensils—with an infected person. If you have the virus, you will have germs in your nose, mouth, eyes, on your skin. By touching other people, you can pass on the virus.
  • Through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from the cough or sneeze may reach another person’s nose or mouth.

What is mumps?

Mumps is disease caused by a virus. Mumps is most common in children, although sometimes adults get it, too.

What are the symptoms?

  • Mumps causes fever, headache and swelling of the parotid glands (in front of the ear). This swelling is painful and makes the cheeks puff out. The glands usually become more swollen and painful over 1 to 3 days.
  • Mumps can cause deafness.
  • In severe cases, mumps can cause meningitis, a serious disease that infects the fluid around the brain and spinal cord or encephalitis. This can lead to seizures, hearing loss, or death.

Older boys and men sometimes get orchitis (painful swelling of the testicles) which can cause sterility.

How do mumps spread?

Mumps spreads through the saliva and secretions from the nose.

  • Through direct contact—such as kissing, or sharing a glass—with an infected person. If you have the virus, you will have germs in your mouth and nose.
  • Through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

What is rubella?

Rubella is also caused by a virus, and is sometimes called “German measles”, but it is different from measles. Rubella is generally a mild disease in children. In pregnant women, rubella is serious because it can harm an unborn child. Caring for Kids has detailed information about pregnant women and rubella.

What are the symptoms?

  • Children with rubella will have a low fever and mild cold symptoms.
  • A rash (pink, or light red in spots) may begin on the face and spread downwards.
  • Glands in the back of your child’s neck or behind his ears may swell up and feel sore.
  • The sickness will usually last about 3 days.

How does rubella spread?

Rubella spreads:

  • Through direct contact—such as kissing, touching or holding hands—with an infected person.
  • Through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

How can I protect my child from measles, mumps and rubella?

In Canada, depending where you live, children get two doses of the MMR vaccine:

  • At 12 months old and 18 months old, or
  • At 12 months old and before they start school (between ages 4 to 6).

It is safe to give the second MMR shot as soon as one month after the first MMR shot.

If your child is between 6 and 12 months old and you live or are travelling to an area that has a known measles outbreak, talk to your child’s doctor about getting an early dose of the MMR vaccine. Keep in mind that your baby will still need to get her regular MMR shot when she is 12 months old.                           

How safe is the MMR vaccine?

  • It is very safe. The only children who should not get the MMR shot are those who had trouble breathing OR had severe swelling on the skin or in the mouth after their first shot.
  • With any vaccine, there may be some redness, swelling, or pain at the place where the needle went into the arm or leg. Some children will have a fever. Your doctor can tell you what to give to control the fever or pain.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee

Last Updated: April 2013