Measles is a viral 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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The measles 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
These factors increase your chance of developing measles:
Unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinatedLiving in crowded and/or unsanitary conditionsTraveling to less developed countries where measles is commonSeason: winter and spring
Weakened immune system even if vaccinated
Born after 1956 and either:
You have never been diagnosed with measles.You received a vaccine before 1968 and you have never been fully vaccinated since.
Symptoms, which usually occur 8-12 days following exposure, 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 two daysLasts about 4-6 days
Full recovery, without scarring, generally takes 7-10 days from the onset of the rash.
The doctor will ask 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.
Gargle with warm salt water to relieve sore throat. Using a humidifier may also help.
Treat high fever with an over-the-counter pain reliever such as
acetaminophen. Cold sponge baths may also help.
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or
recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of
syndrome. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
Get plenty of rest.Drink plenty of liquids.Eat 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:
Encephalitis—inflammation of the brain
If you are diagnosed with measles, follow your doctor's
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, rubella, and
(chicken pox) 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 three days after exposure. This can prevent or reduce symptoms. Immune globulin is given to certain unvaccinated people within six 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.
Ask your doctor if the vaccine is right for you. In general, avoid the vaccine if you:
Have had severe allergic reactions to vaccines or vaccine componentsAre pregnant—Avoid pregnancy for 1-3 months after receiving the vaccine.Have a weakened immune systemHave a high fever or severe upper respiratory tract infection
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.
Bellini WJ, Rota JS, Lowe LE, et al.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis: more cases of this fatal disease are
prevented by measles immunization than was previously recognized.
J Infect Dis. 2005 Nov 15;192(10):1686-93.
Kassianos G. Vaccination for tomorrow: the need to improve immunization rates.
J Fam Health Care. 2010;20(1):13-6.
Peter G, Gardner P.
Standards for immunization practice for vaccines in children and adults.
Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2001;15:9-19.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD; Michael Woods, 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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