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Vaccine jab
Vaccine jab
Key facts about the MMR vaccine and the diseases it is designed to prevent - measles, mumps and rubella.

What is measles?

Measles is an infection caused by a virus, normally acquired in childhood, most commonly in the one to four year age group.

It is highly infectious, and can be spread by coughs and sneezes, and is most infectious before the trademark rash appears.


The first symptoms include runny nose, sore eyes, a cough and fever.

Around the fourth day of the illness, a rash - flat red or brown blotches - may appear, usually starting on the forehead and spreading downwards.

There may also be diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

While this may be the full extent of the illness in many, resolving itself within two weeks of the first symptoms, other complications may arise.

These include a severe cough and breathing difficulties, ear infections, pneumonia and eye infections.

However, in a small number of cases, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) may follow. This is extremely dangerous, as 25% of those affected are left with brain damage.

The most severe complication of measles - occurring in one in 8,000 children under two-years-old - is a slowly-progressive brain infection which does not normally show until some time after the original infection, and eventually causes seizures and death.

What is mumps?

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus. Mumps is spread from person to person through direct contact with saliva, secretions from the respiratory tract, and urine of an infected person.

The symptoms

Mumps does not usually cause serious long term problems, the acute symptoms, such as severe swelling of the salivary glands under the jaw bone, can be very uncomfortable.

Adults are more likely to have serious complications if they become infected than children.

About one in five adult males who are infected suffer from testicular inflammation, which in rare cases can lead to sterility.

The infection can also be linked to meningitis.

Exposure to the virus in the first weeks of pregnancy may increase the rate of spontaneous abortion.

What is rubella?

Rubella, also called German measles, is also caused by a virus that is spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The symptoms

Symptoms of rubella may include a rash, slight fever, aching joints, headaches, discomfort, runny nose and reddened eyes.

The rash first appears on the face and spreads from head to toe.

The lymph nodes just behind the ears and at the back of the neck may swell, causing soreness and pain.

Many people with rubella have few or no symptoms, and only about half of the people who have the disease get a rash.

However, if a pregnant woman gets rubella during the first three months of pregnancy, her baby is at risk of having serious birth defects or dying.

What is MMR?

The Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) can prevent measles infection in 90% of all immunised children.

A second dose raises this level of protection from measles to 99%.

The first dose of the vaccine is normally given by a GP at between 12 and 15 months of age. The booster is given at between three and five years.

MMR controversy

Some parents believe that their children have developed either an autistic spectrum disorder or a bowel disease following the MMR vaccination.

The UK Government backs the use of MMR and says research already carried out proves the triple jab does not harm children.

The controversy sparked in 1998 when Dr Andrew Wakefield publicly voiced concern about the safety of MMR and recommended the use of single vaccines.

Dr Wakefield's claims came shortly after the BSE crisis which had undermined some people's confidence in some government pronouncements.

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