Health Encyclopedia

Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR)

What are measles, mumps, and rubella?

Measles, mumps, and rubella are serious diseases that are spread from person-to-person through the air.

  • Measles. Measles is an infection caused by a virus. It commonly causes a fever and rash. It can also cause cough, runny nose, fever, eye irritation.

  • Mumps. Mumps is also caused by a virus. It affects the parotid and other salivary glands. It can cause a fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen neck glands.

  • Rubella (German measles). Rubella (German measles) is an infection caused by a virus. It causes mild fever and rah in infants and children. It is very dangerous for pregnant women who are not immunized to come in contact with someone who has rubella because it may cause a miscarriage.

Immunization against measles, mumps, and rubella

Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines prevent these diseases. Most children who receive their shots will be protected during childhood. A combination vaccine is given to babies and children and provides protection against all three diseases. A new form of MMR vaccine has been developed, which also contains immunization against chickenpox (varicella). This type of combined vaccine is called MMRV. 

When are MMR vaccines given?

MMR vaccines are given in 2 doses to babies and children at the following ages:

  • 12 to 15 months

  • 4 to 6 years

  • 7 to 18 years, if 2 doses were not previously given

Children who are sick or have a fever should wait until they are well to receive the MMR vaccine.

Some children should not receive MMR vaccine. These include:

  • Children who have ever had an allergic reaction to gelatin or to the antibiotic neomycin

  • Children who have had a previous serious reaction to MMR vaccine.

  • Some children with immune system conditions such as HIV/AIDS or cancer

  • Children taking medications that weaken the immune system, such as steroids

Your child's health care provider will advise you about vaccines in these and other situations.

Pregnant women, or women who plan to become pregnant within a month, should not receive the MMR vaccine. Consult your child's health care provider. 

What are the risks from MMR vaccines?

As with any medication, vaccines carry a small risk of serious harm, such as a severe allergic reaction or even death. Receiving a MMR vaccine is much safer than contracting any of the three diseases. Common reactions to these vaccines may include the following:

  • Fever

  • Mild rash

  • Swelling of glands in the cheek or neck

Severe reactions such as very high fever, seizures, or allergic reactions to these vaccines are rare. Other extremely rare problems that may be related to MMR vaccines include deafness, long term seizures, coma, or permanent brain damage. However, experts are not sure whether these are caused by the MMR vaccines or not. 

How do I care for my child after immunization with MMR vaccines?

  • Give your child aspirin-free pain reliever, as directed by your child's doctor. Do not give aspirin.

  • Watch for signs of reaction, such as high fever, behavior change, seizure, or difficulty breathing. Report these or any other unusual signs immediately to your child's health care provider.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Akin, Louise, RN
  • MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician