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Causes

Measles is spread by contact with droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person. Sneezing and coughing can put contaminated droplets into the air.

If one person has the measles, 90% of the people who come in contact with that person will get the measles, unless they have been vaccinated.

People who had measles or who have been vaccinated against measles are protected from the disease. As of 2000, measles had been eliminated in the United States. However, unvaccinated people who travel to other countries where measles is common have brought the disease back to the United States. This has led to recent outbreaks of measles in groups of people who are unvaccinated.

Some parents DO NOT let their children get vaccinated. This is because of unfounded fears that the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, can cause autism. Parents and caregivers should know that:

  • Large studies of thousands of children have found no connection between this or any vaccine and autism.
  • Reviews by all major health organizations in the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere all found NO LINK between the MMR vaccine and autism.
  • The study that had first reported a risk of autism from this vaccine has been proven to be fraudulent.

Definition

Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) illness caused by a virus.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about symptoms. Usually the diagnosis is easily made from the telltale rash and Koplik's spots.

If needed, blood tests may be done.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Those who DO NOT have complications such as pneumonia do very well.

Possible Complications

Complications of measles infection may include:

Prevention

Getting vaccinated is a very effective way to prevent measles. People who are not immunized, or who have not received the full immunization, are at high risk of catching the disease.

Taking serum immune globulin within 6 days after being exposed to the virus can reduce the risk of developing measles or make the disease less severe.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually begin 8 to 12 days after you are exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period.

Rash is often the main symptom. The rash:

  • 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
  • May appear as flat, discolored areas (macules) and solid, red, raised areas (papules) that later join together
  • Itches

Other symptoms may include:

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for the measles.

The following may relieve symptoms:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Bed rest
  • Humidified air

Some children may need vitamin A supplements, which reduce the risk of death and complications in children who DO NOT get enough vitamin A.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you or your child has symptoms of measles.

Review Date: 8/31/2016
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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