What Is Measles? Measles is a very contagious respiratory infection. It causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms. Measles is rare in the United States thanks to widespread immunization. But millions of cases happen worldwide every year. Measles (also called rubeola) is caused by a virus , so there's no specific medical treatment for it. The virus has to run its course. A child who is sick should drink plenty of liquids, get lots of rest, and stay home from school or daycare to prevent spreading the infection. What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Measles? The first symptoms of a measles infection are usually a hacking cough, runny nose, high fever, and red eyes. Kids also may have Koplik's spots (small red spots with blue-white centers) inside the mouth before the rash starts. The rash breaks out 3–5 days after symptoms start, sometimes along with a high fever up to 104°F (40°C). The red or reddish-brown rash usually begins as flat red spots on the forehead. It spreads to the rest of the face, then down the neck and torso to the arms, legs, and feet. The fever and rash slowly go away after a few days. Is Measles Contagious? Measles is very contagious. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who aren't vaccinated for measles will get it if they are near an infected person. How Do People Get Measles? Measles spreads when people breathe in or have direct contact with virus-infected fluid. It can pass through droplets sprayed into the air when someone with measles sneezes or coughs. Someone exposed to the virus usually shows symptoms 7–14 days later. People with measles can spread the disease from 4 days before the rash starts until about 4 days after that. They're most contagious while they have a fever, runny nose, and cough. Those with weak immune systems due to other conditions (like HIV and AIDS) can spread the measles virus until they recover. How Is Measles Treated? There is no specific medical treatment for measles. To help manage symptoms: give your child plenty of fluids encourage extra rest give a non-aspirin fever medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen if a fever makes your child uncomfortable. Never give aspirin to a child who has a viral illness, as such use is linked to Reye syndrome. Kids with measles should be closely watched by a doctor. In some cases, measles can lead to other problems, such as: ear infections croup diarrhea pneumonia encephalitis (irritation and swelling of the brain) Children with measles should be kept away from others for 4 days after their rash appears. For those with a weak immune system, this should continue until they make a full recovery and all symptoms are gone. How Long Does Measles Last? A measles infection can last for several weeks. Symptoms usually start 7–14 days after someone is exposed to the virus. Can Measles Be Prevented? The best way to protect your kids is to make sure they're immunized against measles. For most kids, measles protection is part of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine (MMRV) given when they're 12 to 15 months old and again when they're 4 to 6 years old. The vaccine can be given to babies as young as 6 months old if they will be traveling internationally. Talk to your doctor to see when the vaccine is needed. Why Is Vaccination Important? Widespread immunization has made measles rare in the U.S. But outbreaks do still happen. An outbreak is when a disease happens in greater numbers than expected in a particular area. Measles outbreaks have been increasing worldwide, mostly due to people not being vaccinated. It's important for all kids who can get the vaccine to get it on time. At-risk people (such as those with weak immune systems) can't get the vaccine. But when a lot of other people are immunized against a disease, it protects them, prevents the disease from spreading, and helps prevent outbreaks. At highest risk during a measles outbreak are: infants who aren't old enough to get the vaccine pregnant women people with poor nutrition or weak immune systems Doctors can give an injection of measles antibodies (called immune globulin) to at-risk people who are exposed to measles. It's most effective when given within 6 days of contact. These antibodies can either prevent measles or make symptoms less severe. The measles vaccine also can help protect unvaccinated people from getting sick after exposure to measles if they get it within 3 days. When Should I Call the Doctor? Call the doctor right away if you think that your child has measles. Also call if your child was around someone who has measles, especially if your child: is an infant is taking medicines that suppress the immune system has tuberculosis, cancer, or a disease that affects the immune system Back to Articles Related Articles Your Child's Immunizations: Measles, Mumps & Rubella Vaccine (MMR) Find out when and why your child needs to get this vaccine. Read More Mumps Mumps is a viral infection that causes telltale swelling and pain in the salivary glands. With the help of the mumps vaccine, it's preventable. Read More Rubella (German Measles) Rubella infection, or German measles, usually is a mild disease in kids that can be prevented with vaccination. Its primary medical danger is to pregnant women because it can affect developing babies. Read More What Can I Do to Ease My Child's Fear of Shots? Find out what the experts have to say. Read More Encephalitis Encephalitis is a rare brain inflammation caused by a virus. The best way to avoid encephalitis is to prevent the illnesses that may lead to it. Read More Immunization Schedule Which vaccines does your child need and when? Use this immunization schedule as a handy reference. Read More Common Questions About Immunizations Immunizations have protected millions of children from potentially deadly diseases. Learn about immunizations and find out exactly what they do - and what they don't. Read More Your Child's Immunizations Immunizations protect kids from many dangerous diseases. Find out what vaccines your child needs to grow up healthy. Read More A Kid's Guide to Shots If you're old enough to read this, you've probably had most of your shots. But even bigger kids may need a shot once in a while. Find out more about them in this article for kids. Read More Encephalitis Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Although encephalitis sounds scary, understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment can help you feel prepared to deal with it if you ever need to. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.