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Measles

Rubeola

Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) illness caused by a virus.

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Measles, Koplik spots - close-up
Measles on the back
Antibodies

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Causes

Measles is spread by contact with droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person. Sneezing and coughing can put contaminated droplets into the air.

If one person has the measles, 90% of the people who come in contact with that person will get the measles, unless they have been vaccinated.

People who had measles or who have been vaccinated against measles are protected from the disease. As of 2000, measles had been eliminated in the United States. However, unvaccinated people who travel to other countries where measles is common have brought the disease back to the United States. This has led to recent outbreaks of measles in groups of people who are unvaccinated.

Some parents do not let their children get vaccinated. This is because of unfounded fears that the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, can cause autism. Parents and caregivers should know that:

Symptoms

Symptoms of measles usually begin 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. This is called the incubation period.

Rash is often the main symptom. The rash:

Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about symptoms. The diagnosis can be made by looking at the rash and seeing Koplik spots in the mouth. Sometimes measles can be hard to diagnose in which case blood tests need to be done.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for the measles.

The following may relieve symptoms:

Some children may need vitamin A supplements, which reduce the risk of death and complications in children who DO NOT get enough vitamin A.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Those who DO NOT have complications such as pneumonia do very well.

Possible Complications

Complications of measles infection may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you or your child has symptoms of measles.

Prevention

Getting vaccinated is a very effective way to prevent measles. People who are not immunized, or who have not received the full immunization, are at high risk of catching the disease if they are exposed.

Taking serum immune globulin within 6 days after being exposed to the virus can reduce the risk of developing measles or make the disease less severe.

Related Information

Fever
Cough
Conjunctivitis or pink eye
Rashes
Immune response
Ear infection - acute
Acute bronchitis
Pneumonia - adults (community acquired)
Encephalitis

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Measles (rubeola). www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html. Updated June 9, 2017. Accessed October 22, 2018.

Cherry JD, Lugo D. Measles virus. In: Cherry JD, Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL, Steinbach WJ, Hotez PJ, eds. Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 180.

Maldonado YA, Shetty AK. Rubeola virus: measles and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. In: Long SS, Prober CG, Fischer M, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 227.

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Review Date: 8/5/2018  

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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