Measles: It isn't just a little rash
Measles: It isn't just a little rash
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Questions & Answers

What is measles?

Measles is a virus that causes fever and a rash. It is highly contagious and anyone who is not vaccinated against the virus can get it at any age.

Although measles is not widespread in the United States because of high vaccination rates, it is still common in other parts of the world. Measles is common in Europe, Asia, Africa and parts of South America. It is sometimes brought into the Unites States by unvaccinated travelers who return with measles infection.

How do people get measles?

Measles is highly contagious. It is spread through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. A person will be contagious four days before the rash appears and for four days after the rash appears. They are no longer contagious on the fifth day after the rash started.

The virus can remain in the air for up to two hours.

What are the symptoms?


Symptoms usually appear 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. In some cases, symptoms may start as early as seven days or as late as 21 days.

Early symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes


Three to five days after initial symptoms, a rash of red spots appears on the face that then spreads over the entire body.

Anyone can become infected with measles, but the virus is more severe in infants, pregnant women and people whose immune systems are weak.


Little boy with measles

Complications of measles include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia (infection of the lung)
  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • Premature birth or low-birth-weight in pregnancy
  • Death


How is measles treated?

There is no specific medical treatment for measles. To help manage symptoms:

  • give your child plenty of fluids
  • encourage extra rest give a non-aspirin fever medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen if a fever makes your child uncomfortable. Never give aspirin to a child who has a viral illness, as such use is linked to Reye syndrome.

Kids with measles should be closely watched by a doctor. In some cases, measles can lead to other problems, such as:

  • ear infections
  • croup
  • diarrhea
  • pneumonia encephalitis (irritation and swelling of the brain)
How long does measles last?

A measles infection can last for several weeks. Symptoms usually start 7–14 days after someone is exposed to the virus.

Can measles be prevented?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent measles. Anyone who has received two doses of a measles-containing vaccine is considered immune and unlikely to get measles.

MMR Vaccine

A child should get a measles vaccine at 12 months of age. The vaccine is combined with mumps and rubella vaccines into one vaccine called measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). A second dose of the MMR vaccine should be given at 4 to 6 years of age, before children enter school.

Infants ages 6 to 11 months who are traveling internationally should receive an early, extra dose of the MMR vaccine at least two weeks prior to travel. Children and adults ages 12 months and older should be up to date on their MMR vaccine, or they should have blood work confirming immunity to measles.

MMR Side Effects

Most people who receive the MMR vaccine do not have any side effects. Some people experience mild side effects, such as fever, mild rash or swelling. Severe problems are very rare.

Vaccine ingredients do not cause autism. More than 25 articles have been published since 1999 that have found no link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as no link between the MMR vaccine and ASD in children.

How do I check if my child is due for MMR vaccine?

Vaccination locations

Vaccination locations


For Healthcare Providers

For Healthcare Providers


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