Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Pertussis: Would You Recognize These Long-Forgotten Illnesses?

July 03, 2018

It’s been so long since measles, mumps, rubella or whooping cough have been a major cause for concern in the United States thanks to vaccinations, that it’s probably unlikely you’d even know the symptoms if you saw them. However, from time to time cases of the illnesses do pop up – including right here in New Jersey in June. Current cases usually originate from outside the country and occur and spread among people who were unvaccinated, but there is a small chance that even vaccinated people can get them. We checked in with Shore’s Pharmacy Clinical Coordinator Maggie Randazzo, PharmD, BCPS, to learn more about symptoms of these diseases of yore so you can know what to look for.

  • Measles: Measles symptoms typically occur 10 to 14 days after exposure. The most notable symptoms of measles is a rash, with small slightly raised red spots that first appear on the face. It then spreads down the torso and limbs. The rash is usually accompanied by a fever that spikes quickly and can go up as high as 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Another tell-tale sign of measles is tiny white sand-like spots inside the cheek above the first and second molars, with a red ring around each one. Before the rash occurs, you may also experience the following symptoms:
    • A mild to moderate fever
    • Persistent dry cough
    • Red and irritated eyes
    • Sore throat
  • Mumps: The most distinct symptoms of mumps are swollen cheeks and jaw, which occurs due to swelling of the salivary glands. However, not all people will experience this symptom, and 15 to 27 percent will not experience any symptoms. While mumps is typically mild in children, adults can experience more serious complications.  Mumps usually begins between 12 and 25 days after exposure. Before the rash onset, you may also experience:
    • Fatigue
    • Low fever
    • Loss of appetite.
  • Rubella: Rubella is another disease that is usually mild in children as well as adults, and includes a skin rash similar to the measles in duration and appearance. While 25 to 50 percent of people won’t have any symptoms, those who do may also experience these symptoms a few days before the rash:
    • A low-grade fever
    • Headache
    • Mild pink eye
    • General discomfort
    • Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes
    • Cough
    • Runny nose
  • Pertussis: Better known as whooping cough, pertussis is a highly contagious disease of the respiratory tract that can cause serious illness in people of all ages, especially babies. Pertussis exhibits in two stages. In stage one, the individual may simply think they have a cold, with symptoms like:
    • Runny nose
    • Low-grade fever
    • A mild cough
    • A pause in breathing, mostly in babies

However, as pertussis progresses the individual will begin to experience coughing fits with the trademark, high-pitched “whoop” at the end. Coughing can be so violent that is causes the individual to vomit and experience extreme exhaustion afterward.

Who Should Be Concerned?
The good news is that if you’ve followed the recommended vaccination schedule, your odds of contracting these illnesses are slim. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control, two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine are 97 percent effective against measles and 88 percent effective against mumps. One dose is 93 percent effective against measles and 78 percent effective against mumps, and 97 percent effective against rubella.

Children, pregnant women, and people who are immunocompromised due to medications or underlying illness, however, are particularly susceptible to many of the diseases that are vaccine-preventable. Our bodies depend on the immune response that’s generated from a vaccine in order to create the antibodies we need to fight off that particular disease should we ever be exposed to it. In people with compromised immune systems, their response to a vaccine might not be full enough to guarantee immunity. These people should always consult with their primary care physicians to make sure they are receiving the correct vaccines at the correct time.

If you’d like to learn more about these illnesses and others for which vaccinations are recommended, visit the Centers for Disease Control at