What is Measles?
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the measles virus. The virus can spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets (such as through coughing or sneezing) as well as through airborne droplets. In addition to developing respiratory symptoms (i.e. runny nose, cough, and fever), those who get the disease usually develop a rash that spreads all over the body. In some cases, there can be serious complications, even death. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the disease.
How Does Measles Spread?
The measles virus lives in the nose and throat of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. The measles virus can also live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch infected surfaces, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected too. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.
Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after the rash appears.
What Are the Symptoms of Measles?
The symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected.
Measles typically begins with:
Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth.
Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person's fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.
What Complications Can Develop?
Measles can be serious is all age groups. However children younger than five years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications.
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
- Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
How is Measles Treated?
There is no treatment for measles, only supportive care.
How Can You Prevent the Disease?
Measles can be prevented with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. Children are recommended to get two doses of MMR, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age and the second at four through six years of age. Teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.
The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective.
Children may also get the measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox) vaccine. This vaccine is only licensed for use in children who are 12 months through 12 years of age.