5 Things You Need to Know About Measles

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
mom with girl measles

Measles is a very contagious viral illness. It's also known as rubeola, and causes a distinct rash and a fever.

Measles is spread through direct contact with droplets from coughs or sneezes from a person with measles. Although not as common, it can be spread by droplets in the air.

The symptoms of measles happen about seven to 14 days after coming in contact with a person with the virus.

Here’s what you need to know about measles, courtesy of Lolita McDavid, MD, MPA, medical director of Child Advocacy and Protection at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

1. What Are the Symptoms of Measles?

Measles often starts with cold-like symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Inflammation and redness of the covering of the white part of the eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Cough
  • Tiny white spots inside the mouth (Koplik spots)

Within another few days, a red rash appears. It often starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body. Once the rash appears, the fever may get much higher. This rash fades after four to seven days as symptoms go away.

The symptoms of measles may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

2. How is Measles Treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Medicine for fever or discomfort
  • Antibiotic medicine for complications such as bacterial infections that may develop. Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections like measles.

3. What are the Possible Complications of Measles?

Most children get better with no lasting effects. But measles can lead to serious complications or even death. Complications of measles are:

  • Middle ear infection that may lead to hearing loss
  • Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)
  • Infection of the upper airway with trouble breathing and cough (croup)
  • Diarrhea
  • Infection of the brain (encephalitis)

4. How Can Measles Be Prevented?

The measles vaccine is part of the routine vaccines recommended for children. Children should be vaccinated for measles with two doses:

  • First dose at 12 to 15 months of age
  • Second dose at 4 to 6 years of age

For children who have not been vaccinated, getting the vaccine up to three days after exposure to measles may prevent the disease.

Children who have had measles are immune for life.

5. When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider?

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if you suspect measles. Get emergency care if your child has:

  • A fever higher than 105°F
  • Trouble breathing
  • A severe headache
  • Confusion or clumsiness


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