There are currently measles epidemics in many European countries where immunization coverage is not sufficiently high. Measles cases have also been observed this winter in Finland; these cases often arrive in Finland as souvenirs from foreign trips.
Measles is exceptionally contagious. Those at risk of infection are all those who have not been vaccinated and young children who have been vaccinated but have not yet developed immunity (first vaccination given at the age of 12–18 months and the second at the age of 6). For example, many people who were born in the late 1960s and early 1970s may not be protected as some of them have not have had measles or been vaccinated. Being in the same room as someone with measles may be enough to catch the virus.
What to do if you catch measles
The incubation period for measles is about 9–11 days. The infection often starts with respiratory symptoms: fever, cough, cold symptoms and inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis). After a few days pale spots (Koplik spots) appear on the lining of the inside of the cheeks. A red rash starts 3–5 days after the first symptoms. The rash often starts behind the ears or on the forehead and then spreads to the rest of the body and finally the arms and legs.
Infected people can spread measles to others four days before and four days after the rash appears. If you suspect you have measles, stay at home to avoid spreading the disease to others. Contact your health centre and follow the instructions that you are given.
How to check your vaccination coverage
The measles vaccine has been part of the National Immunisation Programme since 1975, when children were vaccinated at the age of 12 months at the child health clinic. The MPR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, has been part of the Immunisation Programme since 1982. The majority of people born before the 1970s have had measles and developed immunity in this way.
To find out whether you are protected, check your child health clinic card, if you still have it. The child health clinic’s database contains the vaccination data of younger people. You can find out which of the vaccinations in the National Immunisation Programme you should have had by taking the vaccination coverage test that is on the frontpage of www.rokotustieto.fi/en.
If you have not had the measles vaccination or you are not sure you can ask for the vaccination free of charge at your local health centre.