What is measles (rubeola)?
Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) infection that causes a rash all over your body. It is also called rubeola. The measles vaccine protects against the illness. The vaccine is part of the MMR and MMRV vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots.
What causes it?
Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread when a person who has it coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The virus can travel through the air. This means that you can get measles if you are near someone who has the virus even if they don't cough or sneeze 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.
What are the symptoms?
The first symptoms of measles are a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a 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 tiny white 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.
It usually takes about 7 to 14 days to get symptoms after you have been around someone who has measles. This is called the incubation period.
How is it 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, a viral culture, or both to see if you have measles.
How is measles (rubeola) 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 places until at least 4 days after the rash first appeared.
Your doctor may suggest vitamin A supplements if your child has measles.
If you have been exposed to measles and you haven't 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 people, and people who have impaired immune systems that can't fight infection may need to get IG if they are exposed to measles.
How is it prevented?
Measles can be prevented by a vaccine. It's important to get your child vaccinated because measles can sometimes cause serious problems.
Some parents worry that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. But many studies have been done, and no link has been found between vaccines and ASD.footnote 1, footnote 2
Measles is one of the most easily spread 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 their own country, they 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.
- Demicheli V, et al. (2012). Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3. Accessed January 22, 2019.
- Smith T, et al. (2014). Alternative treatments. In FR Volkmar et al., eds., Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders, assessment, interventions, policy, the future: assessment, interventions, and policy, 4th ed., pp. 1051–1069. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com. Accessed January 11, 2019.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Christine Hahn MD - Epidemiology