Fact Sheet: Measles


Blood sample positive with Measles virus

The Disease

What are measles?

  • Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus.
  • The disease of measles and the virus that causes it share the same name. The disease is also called rubeola.


How is it spread?

  • Measles spreads through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing.
  • The CDC says it is so contagious that any child who is exposed to it and is not immune will probably get the disease.

The Symptoms

What are the signs?

  • Measles looks and feels like a cold at first. Cough, sneezing, high fever, runny nose, sore throat, and red, watery eyes are common.
  • A few days later, a red blotchy rash starts on the face, and then spreads to the rest of the body.

Other Symptoms include:

  • Small spots inside the mouth
  • General weakness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Dehydration
  • General malaise
  • Loss of appetite


How long am I contagious?

  • Early symptoms start 10 to 14 days after exposure.
  • People with measles are infectious for four days prior to the development of rash, and remain infectious until four days after the rash has developed.

The Complications

What are the concerns?

Complications can include:

  • Death
  • Pneumonia
  • Croup
  • Eye damage
  • Myocarditis
  • Hepatitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Measles can also make a pregnant woman miscarry or give birth prematurely.


I’m exposed, now what?

  • The best protection against measles after exposure is vaccination as soon as possible (preferably within 3 days).
  • Immune globulin is an alternative treatment for those with compromised immune systems – including infants and pregnant women.

Am I already immune?

  • People born in the U.S. before 1957, it is very likely that he or she is immune to measles.
  • However, to increase the likelihood that a person is protected against measles, he or she should consider receiving a dose of MMR vaccine if exposed to the disease.
  • People born in the U.S. in or after 1957 as well as those born outside the United States (regardless of birth year) who don’t have documentation of being vaccinated should receive the vaccine as soon as possible.

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