Measles is an infection that spreads quickly. It causes a fever and rash. It was once common in children. It is now less common in the United States due to the use of the measles vaccine.
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Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread by:
- Direct contact with nose or throat droplets of people who have measles, such as through kissing
- Droplets traveling through the air, such as with coughs or sneezes—this is less common
Measles can be spread:
- 1 to 2 days before symptoms appear
- 3 to 5 days before the rash appears
- Up to 4 days after the rash appears
Things that may raise the risk of measles are:
- Going to places where measles is common
- Not getting the measles vaccine
Measles symptoms start 10 to 12 days after being exposed to the virus. They are:
- Fever, often high
- Runny nose
- Red eyes
- Hacking cough
- Sore throat
- Lack of energy
- Very small whitish spots inside the mouth
- Raised, itchy red to brownish rash
Symptoms get better 7 to 10 days from the start of the rash.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. This is enough to make the diagnosis.
The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms until the virus passes. Since measles is caused by a virus it cannot be treated with antibiotics.
Ways to manage symptoms include:
- Supportive care, such as gargling with warm salt water and drinking plenty of fluids
- Medicines to ease pain, such as acetaminophen
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles. It comes as a single vaccine or with:
Some people may be given a vaccine within 3 days of exposure. This can prevent or lessen symptoms.
Immune globulin may also be given to some unvaccinated people within 6 days of exposure. This is often for infants and pregnant women.
- Measles. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/measles.
- Measles (rubeola). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/measles-rubeola.htm.
- Measles. World Health Organization website. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/measles#tab=tab_1.
- Moss, W.J. Measles. Lancet, 2017; 390 (10111): 2490-2502.
- James P. Cornell, MD
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