Measles is a very contagious
(easily spread) infection that causes a rash all over your body. It is also called rubeola or
The measles vaccine
protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. This is why measles is rare in the United States and Canada.
What causes measles?
Measles is caused by a
virus. It is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or
drinks. The measles virus can travel through the air. This means that you can
get measles if you are near someone who has the virus even if that person
doesn't cough or sneeze directly on you.
You can spread the virus
to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash
appeared. The virus is most often spread when people first get sick, before
they know they have it.
you have had measles, you can't get it again. Most people born before 1957 have
What are the symptoms?
The first symptoms of
measles are like a bad cold—a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore
throat, and a hacking cough. The
lymph nodes in your neck may swell. You also may feel
very tired and have diarrhea and red, sore eyes. As these symptoms start to go
away, you will get red spots inside your mouth, followed by a
rash all over your body.
When adults get
measles, they usually feel worse than children who get it.
usually takes about 7 to 18 days to get symptoms after you have been around someone
who has measles. This is called the incubation period.
How is measles diagnosed?
If you think you have measles, call ahead and explain your symptoms before you go to a doctor's office.
After you've had an exam, your doctor may order a blood test and/or viral culture if he or she suspects that you have measles.
How is it treated?
Measles usually gets better with home care. You can take medicine to lower your fever, if needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Also, get plenty of rest and drink lots of
fluids. Stay away from other people as much as you can so that you don't spread
the disease. Anyone who has measles should stay out of school, day care, work, and public
until at least 4 days after the rash first appeared.
Your doctor may suggest vitamin A supplements if your child has measles.
Most people get better within 2 weeks. But measles can sometimes cause dangerous problems, such as lung infection (pneumonia) or brain swelling (encephalitis). In rare cases, it can even cause
If you have been exposed to
measles and you have not had the vaccine, you may be able to prevent the
infection by getting immunoglobulin (IG) or the measles vaccine as soon as possible. Babies who are
younger than 12 months, pregnant women, and people who have
impaired immune systems that can't fight infection
may need to get IG if they are exposed to measles.
Why is prevention important?
Getting your child vaccinated is important, because measles can sometimes
cause serious problems.
False claims in the news have made some parents concerned about a link between autism and vaccines. But studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.1
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. Outbreaks can easily occur. For instance, a person from another country may have measles and not know it yet. If that person travels outside his or her own country, he or she could spread measles to people who are not immune. Also, if you travel to another country and you are not immune to measles, you may be at risk.
If you don't know whether you're immune to measles and you plan to travel, check with your doctor or local health clinic to see whether you should get the vaccine before you travel.
Peacock G, Yeargin-Allsopp M (2009). Autism spectrum disorders: Prevalence and vaccines. Pediatric Annals, 38(1): 22–25.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Measles. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2012 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 29th ed., pp. 489–499. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Prevention of measles, rubella, congenital rubella syndrome, and mumps, 2013: Summary recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR, 62(RRO4): 1–34. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6204a1.htm.
Cherry JD (2009). Measles virus. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2427–2451. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Elliman D, et al. (2009). Measles, mumps, and rubella: Prevention, search date July 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Gershon AA (2010). Measles virus (rubeola). In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2229–2236. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Mason WH (2011). Measles. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1069–1075. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Perry RT, Orenstein WA (2006). Measles. In FD Burg et
al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp.
786–790. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.