Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus. Contagious means the disease spreads very easily.
Measles is caused by a virus. The infection is spread by contact with droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person. For example, sneezing and coughing can put contaminated droplets into the air. Symptoms occur generally 8 to 12 days after you are exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period.
Persons with the measles typically have a fever, cough, redness and irritation of the eyes (conjunctivitis), and a rash that spreads. Those who have had an active measles infection or who have been vaccinated against the measles have immunity to the disease.
Before widespread immunization, measles was so common during childhood that most people became sick with the disease by age 20. While the number of measles cases dropped over the last several decades to virtually none in the U.S. and Canada, rates have started to rise again recently.
Some parents do not let their children receive become vaccinated because of fears that the MMR vaccine, which protects against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, can cause autism. Large studies of thousands of children have found no connection between this vaccine and the development of autism. However, failure to vaccinate children can lead to outbreaks of a measles, mumps, and rubella -- all of which are potentially serious diseases of childhood.
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle pain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Tiny white spots inside the mouth (Koplik's spots)
- Photophobia (light sensitivity)
- Usually appears 3 to 5 days after the first signs of being sick
- May last 4 to 7 days
- Usually starts on the head and spreads to other areas, moving down the body
- Rash may appear as flat, discolored areas (macules) and solid, red, raised areas (papules) that later join together
Exams and Tests
- Viral culture (rarely done)
- Measles serology
There is no specific treatment for the measles.
Symptoms may be relieved with bed rest, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and humidified air.
Some children may need supplementation with vitamin A. Vitamin A reduces the risk of death and complications in children in less developed countries. However, because such children may be deficient in vitamin A, it is not clear if children in other countries would benefit. People who are deficient in vitamin A are more likely to get infections, including measles.
Ribavirin, an anti-viral medicine, may be helpful in severe cases or when a child's immune system is weakened. However, this medicine has not been fully evaluated and is not FDA-approved for this use.
Those who do not have complications such as pneumonia do very well.
Complications of measles infection may include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of measles.
Routine immunization is highly effective in the prevention of measles. Unimmunized or under-immunized people are at high risk for catching the disease.
Serum immune globulin given 6 days after exposure to the virus can reduce the risk of developing measles or decrease the severity of the disease.
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