Measles is a contagious virus causing respiratory issues and severe complications. Symptoms: rash, fever, cough, mouth spots. Quick medical attention is crucial.

Children, those with weakened immune systems, and pregnant individuals face a higher risk of contracting measles. However, anyone can be affected. In 2021, approximately 128,000 individuals lost their lives due to measles globally, with most being unvaccinated children under 5. Measles cases have been on the rise in the United States. Learn about symptoms, complications, treatment, and more.

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Measles Symptoms | Duration | Complications | Causes & Transmission | Diagnosis | Treatment | Adult Risk | Baby Risk | Measles vs. Rubella | Prevention | Pregnancy Risk | Prognosis | Conclusion

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles symptoms usually show up about 14 days after exposure to the virus. A widespread rash, starting on the head and spreading across the body, is a telltale sign. The rash consists of flat spots and raised bumps that merge into a rash covering the skin. It can appear red, brown, or different from your skin tone. Measles typically isn’t itchy. Other symptoms include cough, high fever, runny nose, eye irritation, sore throat, and Koplik spots in the mouth. Learn more about recognizing measles symptoms.

How long does measles last?

The incubation period for measles is usually 11 to 12 days, referring to the time from exposure to symptoms. During this period, you may experience nonspecific symptoms like fever, cough, and runny nose. About 2 to 4 days later, a rash appears, lasting up to 6 days but possibly lingering for 21 days. The virus spreads from one person to another as early as 4 days before the rash and remains contagious for about 4 days after it disappears.

What are the complications of measles?

Minor complications of measles, like ear infections and diarrhea, are manageable. However, serious complications such as pneumonia, encephalitis, and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis require urgent medical attention. Additionally, measles can have severe effects on pregnancy and may result in death in vulnerable individuals.

What causes measles and how is it spread?

Measles, caused by a virus from the Paramyxoviridae family, is highly contagious. When exposed, about 9 out of 10 individuals develop the infection. It spreads through the air or direct contact with droplets from coughs or sneezes. The virus can survive on surfaces for up to 2 hours. Once in your body, it invades cells, starting in the respiratory tract and spreading through the bloodstream. Measles is exclusive to humans and does not affect animals.

Measles, a highly contagious viral infection, stems from the Paramyxoviridae family. Its transmission occurs via airborne droplets or direct contact, with about 9 out of 10 exposed individuals contracting the disease. The virus remains viable on surfaces for up to 2 hours. Upon entry, it infiltrates cells, initiating in the respiratory tract before disseminating through the bloodstream. Measles exclusively afflicts humans, showing no impact on animals.

How is measles diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose measles by evaluating symptoms like rash, fever, and cough. White spots in the mouth are also indicators. They might confirm the diagnosis with a blood test to detect the virus. Since the rash may not appear immediately after exposure, it’s crucial to inform a healthcare professional about any symptoms or rash promptly.

How is measles treated?

Unlike bacterial infections, antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. Measles typically resolves on its own within 3 weeks. Treatment focuses on symptom relief and preventing complications.

If exposed to the measles virus, healthcare professionals may:

  • Administer a measles vaccine within 72 hours of exposure.
  • Prescribe immunoglobulin within 6 days of exposure.

For acute symptoms like cough and fever:

  • Over-the-counter medications may be recommended.
  • Rest to boost the immune system.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Use a humidifier to alleviate cough and sore throat.
  • Consider adding vitamin A supplements to the routine.

Can adults get measles?

Yes, adults can contract measles, with a higher risk of complications. Those unvaccinated are more susceptible after exposure. If you’re over 20 and in contact with a measles case, seek medical advice and take precautions to prevent transmission.

Can babies get measles?

Before their first measles vaccine around age 1, babies can still get the virus. They receive some immunity from their mother through the placenta and nursing. However, this protection may only last until around 7 months old. Children under 5 are at higher risk of complications if unvaccinated.

Measles vs. rubella

You may know rubella as German measles, but it’s caused by a different virus than measles. Rubella is less contagious but can be dangerous during pregnancy.

Despite their differences, both measles and rubella:

  • Spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes
  • Cause fever and a rash
  • Are only found in humans

Vaccines like MMR and MMRV protect against both measles and rubella.

How can you prevent measles?

Reducing the risk of measles and its complications is possible by following these steps.


Vaccination stands as the most effective method to prevent measles, with two doses being 97% effective. Two types of vaccines are available: the MMR vaccine guards against measles, mumps, and rubella, while the MMRV vaccine adds protection against chickenpox. Children usually get their first dose at 12 months, followed by a second between 4 and 6 years. Adults who missed immunization can get vaccinated at any age. However, it’s not recommended for pregnant individuals, those with severe reactions to the vaccine, or immunocompromised individuals. Side effects are typically mild, including fever and a rash, with severe reactions being rare. Extensive research has debunked claims linking vaccines to autism. Vaccination not only safeguards you and your loved ones but also contributes to herd immunity, where about 96% of the population needs vaccination to prevent measles circulation.

Other measles prevention methods

Not everyone can receive the measles vaccine, but you can still help prevent its spread. Here are some tips:

  • Wash hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Avoid sharing personal items like utensils or toothbrushes.
  • Steer clear of sick individuals and maintain distance.
    If you have measles:
  • Stay home until 4 days after the rash clears.
  • Avoid contact with infants and immunocompromised individuals.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes, and dispose of tissues properly.
  • Keep hands clean and sanitize surfaces you touch.

Can you get measles during pregnancy?

Pregnant individuals without immunity to measles face risks if exposed to the virus. Complications like pneumonia, pregnancy loss, and preterm labor are possible. Babies can also contract measles during delivery, leading to congenital measles and potential complications. If you’re pregnant and suspect exposure to measles, contact your healthcare provider promptly for advice on receiving immunoglobulin injection to reduce infection risk.

What’s the outlook?

Measles typically has a low mortality rate in individuals with strong immune systems, and most recover fully. However, certain groups face higher risk of complications, including children under 5, adults over 20, pregnant individuals, those with weakened immune systems, malnourished individuals, and those deficient in vitamin A. Around 30% of measles cases result in complications, but it’s rare to contract the virus more than once, as the body usually develops immunity afterward.


Measles is a contagious viral infection that can cause severe complications and even death in unvaccinated individuals. However, vaccination is highly effective in preventing measles and its complications. It not only protects you and your loved ones but also helps prevent the spread of the virus in the community. Most people recover from measles within three weeks, but early diagnosis is crucial to prevent complications. If you suspect exposure to the measles virus, seek prompt medical attention.

Jump to section

Measles Symptoms | Duration | Complications | Causes & Transmission | Diagnosis | Treatment | Adult Risk | Baby Risk | Measles vs. Rubella | Prevention | Pregnancy Risk | Prognosis | Conclusion

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