Learn more about the differences between the infections & why the combined MMR vaccination is important

The MMR vaccination helps protect you against three serious illnesses – measles, mumps and rubella. It’s an effective vaccination with a good safety profile that’s given to babies and young children as part of the NHS Childhood Vaccination Programme.


What is measles?

Measles is a type of infection that spreads very easily and can cause serious problems in some people.

It usually starts with cold-like symptoms before a rash develops a few days later. This rash will likely start on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body.

What are the symptoms?

The cold-like symptoms of measles include:

• A high temperature

• A runny or blocked nose

• Sneezing

• Coughing

• Red, sore, watery eyes

A few days after these cold symptoms begin, a rash will begin to develop.

The rash isn’t usually itchy and will appear brown or red on white skin, but it may be harder to see on brown and black skin. It may feel raised on the skin and may join together to form blotchy patches.

Some people also develop small white spots in their mouth after a few days. These usually appear inside the cheeks and on the back of the lips.

It’s unlikely to be measles if you’ve had both doses of the MMR vaccination, or you’ve had measles before.

How is measles treated?

Measles should get better on its own in around a week. It’s important to rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve a high temperature (always read the label).

As measles is very contagious, you should stay off work, school or nursery for at least four days after the rash first appears. Measles spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so remember to use tissues and wash hands with soap and warm water often.

Don’t share any cutlery, cups, towels, clothes or bedding.

Measles can become serious if it spreads to another part of the body, such as the lungs or brain, although this is rare. However, the people at more risk are babies, pregnant people and those with weakened immune systems, so avoid any close contact with those people if you have measles.

Ask for an urgent GP appointment if:

• You think you or your child may have measles

• You’ve been in close contact with someone with measles and you’ve not had the MMR vaccination

• You’ve been in close contact with someone who has measles and you’re pregnant. Measles can be serious in pregnancy

• You have a weakened immune system and you’ve been in close contact with someone with measles


What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that causes painful swelling on the side of the face. It’s not usually serious, but it has symptoms similar to more serious types of infections, like glandular fever and tonsilitis, so it’s best to speak to your GP if you suspect it.

What are the symptoms?

The most distinctive symptom of mumps is the swelling in the side of the face under the ears (your parotid glands), giving the person a “hamster face” appearance.

Other symptoms may develop a few days before the swelling starts. These include:

• Headaches

• Joint pain

• A high temperature

• Feeling sick

• Dry mouth

• Mild abdominal pain

• Feeling tired

• Loss of appetite

Mumps is spread through infected droplets of saliva that are inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the mouth or nose. It’s at its most contagious a few days before symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards, so it’s important to prevent the spread during this time.

The best way to do this is to:

• Stay away from school, college or work until five days after you first developed symptoms

Wash your hands regularly, using soap and water

Always use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, and throw the tissue in a bin immediately afterwards

How is mumps treated?

There’s currently no treatment for mumps – the infection should pass on its own within one or two weeks.

While you recover, get plenty of rest and fluids. You can use painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol (always read the label) or apply a warm or cool compress to the swelling to help relieve any pain.

Mumps usually passes without causing any serious damage to a person’s health and serious complications are rare.

You should contact your GP if you suspect you or your child has mumps so they can make a diagnosis. While it’s not usually serious, it does have similar symptoms to more serious infections. Your GP should be able to make a diagnosis after seeing and feeling the swelling, and checking the position of your tonsils and your temperature.

Let your GP know in advance if you are visiting your doctor’s surgery so they can take the precautions to prevent the spread of infection.

If your symptoms don't improve after seven days, or suddenly worsen, contact your GP for advice.


What is rubella?

Rubella (or German measles) is a rare illness that causes a spotty rash. It usually gets better on its own in about a week.  

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of rubella is a spotty rash that starts on the face or behind the ears before spreading to the neck and body. This rash usually takes around two to three weeks to appear after catching rubella.

The rash will look red or pink on white skin and can be harder to see on brown or black skin – it might feel rough and bumpy.

Rubella might also cause:

• Lumps (swollen glands) in your neck or behind your ears

•  Aching fingers, wrists or knees

• A high temperature

• Coughs

• Sneezing and runny nose

• Headaches

• A sore throat

• Sore, red eyes

How is rubella treated?

Call your GP if you or your child have symptoms of rubella.

It usually gets better in about a week by itself. Get plenty of rest and fluids and take painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen if suitable for you (always read the label).

Rubella can be infectious from one week before the symptoms start and for up to five days after the rash first appears. It can be serious for certain people, such as those who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, so avoid close contact with those people This can be done by:

• Staying off nursery, school, or work for five days after the rash appears

• Avoiding close contact with anyone who is pregnant

• Washing your hands often with soap and warm water

• Using tissues when you cough or sneeze

• Throwing used tissues in the bin

• Not sharing share cutlery, cups, towels, clothes, or bedding

What is the MMR vaccination?

The MMR vaccination is a combined vaccine that protects against these three serious illnesses. As they are all highly infectious conditions, they can easily spread between unvaccinated people.

The MMR vaccination is given to babies and young children in two doses as part of the NHS vaccination schedule.

•  1st dose – at one year

• 2nd dose – at three years and four months

Getting both doses of the vaccine is important, as measles, mumps and rubella can (in rare cases) lead to serious problems like meningitis, hearing loss and problems during pregnancy.

Anyone who hasn’t received two doses of the MMR vaccine should ask their GP for a vaccination appointment. This especially important if you:

• Are about to start college or university

• Are going to travel abroad

• Are planning a pregnancy

• Are a frontline health or social care worker

• Were born between 1970 and 1979, as you may have only been vaccinated against measles

• Were born between 1980 and 1990, as you may not be protected against mumps

As a precaution, the MMR vaccine isn’t recommended for pregnant people. You should also avoid becoming pregnant for one month after having the MMR vaccine.

It’s also not recommended for people with a severely weakened immune system.

If you’d like to check if it’s safe for you to have the MMR vaccine, consult your GP.

There is no evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Visit the Oxford University Vaccine Knowledge ProjectOxford website for a list of MMR studies and their findings.

How effective is the MMR vaccine?

After two doses:

• Around 99% of people will be protected against measles and rubella

• Around 88% of people will be protected against mumps

Protection against measles, mumps and rubella starts to develop about two weeks after having the vaccine. Those who are vaccinated against mumps but still catch it are less likely to be admitted to hospital or have serious complications.

Are there any side effects of the MMR vaccine?

Most side effects are mild and don’t last long. These could include:

• The area where the needle goes in looking red and swollen or feeling sore for a few days

• Babies or young children feeling a bit unwell or developing a high temperature around seven to 11 days after the injection.

It’s good to remember that the possible complications of measles, mumps and rubella are much more serious than the mild side effects of the vaccination.

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