Measles is an infection that spreads easily. It causes fever, cough, and a rash. It was once a common childhood illness, but it is now less common in the United States due to the use of the
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Measles is caused by a virus. The virus is spread by: Direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected peopleAirborne transmission, which is less common
Measles can be spread: 1-2 days before symptoms appear3-5 days before the rash4 days after the appearance of the rash
Factors that may increase your risk of measles include: Unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinatedLiving in crowded and/or unsanitary conditionsTraveling to less developed countries where measles is commonSeason: winter and springWeakened immune system even if vaccinated
Born after 1956 and either:
You have never been diagnosed with measlesYou received a vaccine before 1968 and you have never been fully vaccinated since
Measles symptoms generally appear 8-12 days following exposure. They include: ConjunctivitisFever, often highRunny noseSneezingDiscomfortRed eyesHacking coughSore throatExhaustionVery small spots inside the mouth—2-4 days after initial symptoms
Raised, itchy red to brownish rash:
Starts around the ears, face, and side of the neck 3-5 days after the first symptoms appearGenerally spreads to the arms, trunk, and legs over the next 2 daysLasts about 4-6 days
Full recovery, without scarring, generally takes 7-10 days from the onset of the rash.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is made from the symptoms and the rash. Lab tests are usually not needed.
Measles is caused by a virus. It cannot be treated with antibiotics. The focus is on relieving symptoms with rest and comfort measures such as: Gargling with warm salt waterUsing a humidifierOver-the-counter pain relieversCold sponge bathsDrinking plenty of liquids and eating a soft, bland diet
In most cases, complications are rare. You may need to be hospitalized if you have a severe case. Complications may include:
Inflammation of the brain—
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles. The vaccine contains live viruses that can no longer cause disease.
There is a single vaccine to prevent measles. It is also available in combination with: Mumps
Mumps, rubella, and
(chickenpox) vaccine (MMRV)
The regular schedule for giving the vaccine is at age 12-15 months and again at age 4-6 years. If you or your child has never been vaccinated against the measles, talk to the doctor.
In some cases, the MMR vaccine is given within 3 days after exposure. This can prevent or reduce symptoms. Immune globulin is given to certain unvaccinated people within 6 days of exposure. This is usually for infants and pregnant women.
If you or someone in your family gets measles, family members may need to be vaccinated or given immune globulin.
If you are not vaccinated, avoid contact with someone who has measles. Recent outbreaks of measles have occurred in Europe and the United States. They may have been caused by increasing numbers of children who are not vaccinated. Discuss the benefits of vaccination with your doctor.
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Last reviewed June 2015 by Fabienne Daguilh, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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