• We are sorry, but NCBI web applications do not support your browser and may not function properly. More information
Measles is caused by a virus and possible complications include pneumonia. Measles is a major cause of death in children in low‐income countries and is particularly dangerous in children with vitamin A deficiency. Eight studies involving 2574 participants were included in this review and we found that there was no significant reduction in mortality in children receiving vitamin A. However, vitamin... more

PubMed Health. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Measles

Rubeola

Last reviewed: August 1, 2012.

Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) illness caused by a virus.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The infection is spread by contact with droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person. Sneezing and coughing can put contaminated droplets into the air.

Those who have had an active measles infection or who have been vaccinated against the measles have immunity to the disease. Before widespread vaccination, measles was so common during childhood that most people became sick with the disease by age 20. The number of measles cases dropped over the last several decades to almost none in the U.S. and Canada. However, rates have started to rise again recently.

Some parents do not let their children get vaccinated because of unfounded fears that the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, can cause autism. Large studies of thousands of children have found no connection between this vaccine and autism. Not vaccinating children can lead to outbreaks of a measles, mumps, and rubella -- all of which are potentially serious diseases of childhood.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually begin 8 - 12 days after you are exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period.

Symptoms may include:

  • Light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Rash
    • Usually appears 3 - 5 days after the first signs of being sick
    • May last 4 - 7 days
    • Usually starts on the head and spreads to other areas, moving down the body
    • Rash may appear as flat, discolored areas (macules) and solid, red, raised areas (papules) that later join together
    • Itchy
  • Redness and irritation of the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Tiny white spots inside the mouth (Koplik's spots)

Signs and tests

  • Measles serology
  • Viral culture (rarely done)

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for the measles.

The following may relieve symptoms:

Some children may need vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A reduces the risk of death and complications in children in less developed countries, where children may not be getting enough vitamin A. People who don't get enough vitamin A are more likely to get infections, including measles. It is not clear whether children in more developed countries would benefit from supplements.

Expectations (prognosis)

Those who do not have complications such as pneumonia do very well.

Complications

Complications of measles infection may include:

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of measles.

Prevention

Routine immunization is highly effective for preventing measles. People who are not immunized, or who have not received the full immunization are at high risk for catching the disease.

Taking serum immune globulin 6 days after being exposed to the virus can reduce the risk of developing measles, or can make the disease less severe.

References

  1. Mason WH. Measles. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 238.

Review Date: 8/1/2012.

Reviewed by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Chinese medicinal herbs for measlesChinese medicinal herbs for measles
    Measles (rubeola) is an infectious disease caused by multiplication of a single‐strand ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus of the genus Morbillivirus in the upper respiratory tract and conjunctiva. It can lead to serious complications and death. Chinese herbal medicines are believed to be effective in alleviating symptoms and shortening the duration of measles, and are widely used as the main or adjunctive therapy to treat measles in China and other countries.
See all (12) ...

Figures

  • Measles, Koplik spots - close-up.
    Measles on the back.
    Antibodies.

PubMed Health Blog...

read all...

MedlinePlus.gov links to free, reliable, up-to-date health information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other trusted health organizations.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...