Measles (Rubeola)

General information about measles, including symptoms, complications, tests, and treatment.

Updated 3/11

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On this page:
What is measles?
What are the symptoms of measles?
If you or your child has symptoms of measles, what should you do?
How serious is measles?
How does measles spread?
How long is a person with measles contagious?
Is there a treatment for measles?
Is there a vaccine for measles?
If you or your child has been exposed to measles, what should you do?

What is measles?

Measles, also called rubeola, is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. Because of high immunization levels, measles is no longer common in the United States. But it is still common in many other countries and may be brought into the U.S. by unvaccinated travelers. Keeping our measles immunization levels high is critical to preventing measles outbreaks.

What are the symptoms of measles?

  • Rash AND
  • Fever AND
  • Cough OR runny nose OR watery/mattering eyes

Symptoms appear about eight to 12 days after a person is exposed to measles. The first symptom is usually fever. The rash usually appears two to three days after the fever begins and lasts five to six days. The rash begins at the hairline, moves to the face and upper neck and then down the body.

If you or your child has symptoms of measles, what should you do?

Be sure to stay at home and avoid having visitors until you have talked with your doctor or clinic. Your doctor or clinic will tell you if you should come in for a visit.

How serious is measles?

Measles can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Many people with measles have complications like diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, or acute encephalitis (a brain infection that can lead to permanent brain damage). Complications are more common in children under 5 years of age and adults older than 20.

Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight infants.

Measles can be especially severe in persons whose immune systems are weak.

How does measles spread?

Measles is spread through the air when people who have it breathe and cough. It is highly contagious.

You cannot get measles more than once, because after you have had it you are immune.

How long is a person with measles contagious?

A person with measles can pass it to others from four days before their rash appears to four days after it appears.

Is there a treatment for measles?

No, there is no specific treatment for measles. People with measles need bed rest, fluids, and control of fever. They may also need treatment for complications such as diarrhea, ear infection, or pneumonia.

Is there a vaccine for measles?

Yes. The measles vaccination is usually combined with mumps and rubella (MMR).

  • Children should receive two doses of MMR vaccine: the first at 12 to 15 months of age and the second at 4 to 6 years of age. (During a measles outbreak, children may receive the second dose as soon as four weeks after the first dose, no matter how old they are.)
  • All adults who have not had measles or a measles shot should receive MMR vaccine, particularly if they were born in 1957 or later.
  • Certain adults (such as health care workers) should receive two doses of measles/ MMR vaccine to make sure they’re protected.

If you or your child has been exposed to measles, what should you do?

  • Call your doctor or clinic right away. They will let you know if you need to come in for a visit.
  • If you have not been vaccinated, getting an MMR shot within three days of being exposed may prevent them from getting measles.
  • If you get a shot of immune globulin (a blood product with antibodies to the measles virus) within six days of being exposed to measles, it may prevent or lessen the severity of measles.

Updated Thursday, 24-Mar-2011 13:31:18 CDT