DefinitionMeasles 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 measles vaccine .
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CausesMeasles is caused by a virus. The virus is spread by:
- Direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected people
- Airborne transmission, which is less common
- 1-2 days before symptoms appear
- 3-5 days before the rash
- 4 days after the appearance of the rash
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of measles:
- Unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated
- Living in crowded and/or unsanitary conditions
- Traveling to less developed countries where measles is common
- Season: 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
SymptomsMeasles symptoms generally appear 8-12 days following exposure. They include:
- Fever, often high
- Runny nose
- Red eyes
- Hacking cough
- Sore throat
- Very 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 appear
- Generally spreads to the arms, trunk, and legs over the next two days
- Lasts about 4-6 days
DiagnosisThe 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.
TreatmentMeasles 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 with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
- Eat a soft, bland diet.
ComplicationsIn most cases, complications are rare. You may need to be hospitalized if you have a severe case. Complications may include:
PreventionGetting 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:
- Have had severe allergic reactions to vaccines or vaccine components
- Are pregnant—Avoid pregnancy for 1-3 months after receiving the vaccine.
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have a high fever or severe upper respiratory tract infection
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Caring for Kids
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Measles. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 25, 2014. Accessed August 27, 2014.
Measles (rubeola). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/measles-rubeola.htm. Updated December 13, 2013. Accessed August 27, 2014.
Peter G, Gardner P. Standards for immunization practice for vaccines in children and adults. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2001;15:9-19.
5/27/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Measles—United States, January—May 20, 2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011;60(20)666-668.
- Reviewer: Fabienne Daguilh, MD
- Review Date: 06/2014
- Update Date: 05/11/2013