Measles and the MMR vaccine: facts and figures

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A virus causes measles, which is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, white spots inside the mouth, and tiny red spots on the body. The red spots emerge on your head and spread to the rest of your body.

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. The CDC recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine. The first dose is given when the child is between 12 and 15 months old. The second dose is given when the child is between 4 and 6 years old. 

"The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective," the CDC said. "Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective."

The United States measles vaccination program began in 1963. Before then, between 3 million and 4 million people got measles every year, according to the CDC. Only a fraction of those cases were even reported to the CDC. In the cases reported, about 400 to 500 people died and about a thousand developed encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain, each year.

Since 1963, "widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era," the CDC said. "However, measles is still common in other countries. Unvaccinated people continue to get measles while abroad and bring the disease into the United States and spread it to others."