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What Is Measles?

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.

What Causes Measles?

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.

What Are the Symptoms of Measles?

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.

How Is Measles Diagnosed?

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.

How Is Measles Treated?

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.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Measles:

  • DO tell your health care provider if you’re pregnant. Measles during pregnancy can affect your baby.
  • DO cover your mouth when coughing.
  • DO wash hands regularly and encourage others to do so.
  • DO use a cool-mist vaporizer to soothe coughing.
  • DO use saline eye drops for irritation and sunglasses for light sensitivity.
  • DO call your health care provider if a sore throat and high temperature develop during the illness, or if you have a severe headache, trouble breathing, chest pain, earache, increased drowsiness or weakness, and a cough with thick yellow sputum.
  • DON’T send a child with measles to school for about 10 days. They can give measles to others from 5 days before the first spots appear until at least 5 days after the rash develops.
  • DON’T give aspirin to a child younger than 16 during a viral infection to avoid Reye’s syndrome.

Contact the following sources:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    Tel: (847) 434-4000
  • Pediatric Infectious Disease Society
    Tel: (703) 299-6764

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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