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Measles is our most serious childhood disease. The disease is very contagious. Among those who grew up before a vaccine was available, more than 99 per cent caught measles. The disease begins with cold-like symptoms and a high fever, followed by a rash. Measles is often followed by complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and middle ear inflammation. Serious consequences such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), permanent brain damage and death occur. Worldwide, about 120,000 people die of measles each year, most of whom are children. Fatalities from measles outbreaks also occur among unvaccinated people in our part of the world.
Mumps is a viral infection that causes fever and swelling in the salivary glands in front of the ear. The most common complication is mumps meningitis, which usually passes without permanent damage. A more serious complication is permanent deafness. If boys contract mumps after puberty, the virus can attack the testicles and cause reduced fertility, but probably not sterility.
Rubella is a mild disease that causes fever and rash in both children and adults. If a pregnant woman contracts rubella, the disease can cause seriously harm the foetus. The risk for deformities is over 80 per cent for disease within the first trimester of pregnancy.
The most common source of infection for pregnant women is contact with children who have the disease. In some outbreaks, unvaccinated men have been the source of infection. Therefore, it is important that all children are vaccinated.
The vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella is known as the MMR vaccine. The vaccine is a combination vaccine that contains live, weakened measles, mumps and rubella viruses. After the first MMR dose, which is normally given at the age of 15 months, over 90 per cent of those vaccinated are protected for many years, possibly for life. A new dose is given at the age of 11 to ensure the protection of the remaining 10 per cent and to ensure long-term protection. It is not harmful to vaccinate a person who has already had one or more of the diseases.
Since the MMR vaccine is a live weakened vaccine, it is important that the public health nurse is informed before vaccination if the child has an immunodeficiency disorder or receives medicine.
Brief pain, redness and swelling at the injection site may occur. One to two weeks after vaccination, some children will show mild symptoms of the diseases vaccinated against, but this occurs in fewer than 1 in 20. The most common symptoms are fever and rash, which most often appear after the first dose. Infection with a vaccine virus is not contagious. The complications that occur after the diseases rarely or never occur after vaccination.
In 1997, a hypothesis alleged that MMR vaccine could be a cause of autism. Several major studies have since been performed which all indicate strongly that MMR vaccine does not cause autism or any other form of brain damage.
The vaccine used is called Priorix.