Measles is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus. The disease usually starts 7 to 14 days after exposure and lasts 4 to 10 days.
Measles is caused by a virus that easily spreads among people. People breathe in droplets in the air that contain the virus when they are near someone who has it, or they touch things that are contaminated with the virus, such as drinking glasses, and then put their fingers in their mouths.
People don’t get measles more than once.
The best way to stop measles is to get vaccinated. Most cases occur in preschool children, adolescents, young adults, and people who haven’t had vaccinations. Adults may get measles if they only had one vaccine dose many years ago and may need a booster shot for travel to countries where measles is still common.
Complications include ear infections, pneumonia, strep throat, and meningitis.
The first symptom is fever, followed by feeling tired, loss of appetite, and later, a runny nose, sneezing, dry hacking cough, and light sensitivity. Then, tiny white-gray spots appear in the mouth and throat, followed by a red-brown rash that starts on the forehead and around the ears and spreads to the body. The fever starts to go down on the second or third day of the rash. When the rash reaches the feet, it starts to fade. The rash can leave a brownish color that disappears in 7 to 10 days.
The health care provider makes a diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. No specific tests are needed, but a blood test may confirm the diagnosis.
People should be isolated for 4 days after the rash starts and rest until the fever and rash are gone. Saline eye drops can help eye irritation, and sunglasses help severe light sensitivity. Nonaspirin products (e.g., acetaminophen) should be given for fever. Never give aspirin to a child younger than 16 with a viral infection because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Antibiotics aren’t needed because the infection is due to a virus. Fluid intake should be increased.
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