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Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

The MMR vaccine is safe and is the most effective way to protect children against measles, mumps and rubella. Without the MMR vaccine, nearly every child will get all three of these serious diseases.

What are measles, mumps and rubella?

Measles is a viral infection which is spread from person to person. Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, a rash, swollen glands, red eyes, and loss of appetite. Symptoms can last for up to 10 days in children and longer in adults. Serious complications can occur.

Mumps is caused by a virus and makes you feel generally unwell. In around 70 per cent of cases it can cause symptoms such as painful swollen glands in the face and neck. Symptoms last for up to 10 days and complications can occur.

Rubella (also known as German measles) is a mild viral disease which causes a rash, swollen glands behind the ear and the back of the neck and occasionally, in adults, painful joints. The infection is particularly serious in pregnancy.

Why is it important to protect children against these diseases?

Measles, mumps and rubella can all have serious complications.

Measles can cause:

  • ear infections (one in 20)
  • respiratory problems (one in 25)
  • convulsions (one in 200)
  • meningitis (one in 1,000)

In some cases (one in 2,500-5,000), measles can cause death. In children who acquire measles when aged less than two years, one in 8,000 will develop a fatal degenerative brain condition within eight years of infection.

Mumps can cause:

  • deafness - usually with partial or complete recovery (one in 25)
  • swollen, painful testicles in older boys and men (one in 5)
  • miscarriage in pregnant women
  • meningitis – before the introduction of the MMR vaccine, mumps was the biggest cause of viral meningitis in children

Rubella can cause inflammation of the brain (one in 6,000) and can affect blood clotting (one in 3,000). In pregnant women, it can cause miscarriage or major health problems for their babies such as blindness, deafness, heart problems or brain damage.

What is MMR?

MMR vaccine protects your child against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). It is given to children at 13 months and again as a booster before they go to school. The first vaccine used to be given at 15 months but this has recently been changed to give an extra two months protection from the diseases.

Since MMR was introduced here in 1988, the number of children catching these diseases has fallen to an all-time low. MMR uptake rates in Northern Ireland are the highest in the UK – nine out of 10 parents here choose to have their child immunised with MMR.

Is MMR safe?

MMR is used all over the world and has an excellent safety record.

Does MMR cause autism?

No. There is no evidence that MMR causes autism.

What about single vaccines?

Separate vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella are not recommended. Separating vaccines puts children at risk while they wait unnecessarily between each vaccine. It also means that children have to have repeat injections and are more at risk of adverse reactions at the injection site.