Measles: Overview, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measles is a very contagious sickness that makes you have a fever, a red rash, cough, and watery eyes. It can be very serious for some people. The best way to stop yourself and others from getting measles is to get the measles shot.

Overview of Measles:

Measles is a sickness that kids can get from a virus. It used to be common, but now we can almost always stop it with a vaccine. Also known as rubeola, measles spreads easily and can be very serious especially for young kids. Even though fewer kids are dying from it because more of them are getting the measles shot, it still kills over 200,000 people every year, mostly children. In the United States, measles hasn’t been widespread for about 20 years because most people get vaccinated. The few cases we see now usually come from outside the country and affect people who didn’t get vaccinated or aren’t sure if they got vaccinated.

What are the Types of Measles?

Besides the typical measles, there are a few other kinds of measles you might catch. There are two types of measles. Such as:

Atypical Measles: It happens to people who got a measles shot between 1963 and 1967 but it wasn’t the best kind. If they get exposed to measles they might get sick with high fever, a rash, and sometimes pneumonia.

Modified Measles: This can happen to people who’ve had shots after being near someone with measles or babies who still have some protection from their mom. Modified measles is usually not as bad as regular measles. There’s hemorrhagic measles, but it’s rare in the United States. It causes high fever, seizures, and bleeding under the skin and in the mouth and nose.

Measles in Adults:

Even though we often think of measles as a childhood illness, adults can get it too. If you haven’t had the measles vaccine, you’re more likely to catch the disease. It’s generally believed that adults born in 1957 or earlier are naturally protected against measles. This vaccine didn’t exist before 1963. Back then, most people caught measles when they were young and immune to it. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that serious problems from measles are not just common in young kids, but also in adults over 20. These problems can include things like pneumonia, swelling of the brain and even blindness. If you’re an adult who hasn’t had the measles vaccine or you’re not sure if you have, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated. They might recommend at least one shot to protect you.

Measles in Babies:

The measles shot isn’t given to kids until they’re at least 12 months old. Before they get this shot, they’re most likely to catch measles. Babies get some protection from measles from their moms. This happens through the placenta when they’re in the womb and also through breastfeeding. But studies have found that this protection goes away in a little over 2.5 months after birth or when they stop breastfeeding. Kids under 5 years old are more likely to have problems from measles. They might get pneumonia, swelling of the brain or ear infections that could make them lose their hearing.

Measles During Pregnancy:

Pregnant women who aren’t immune to measles need to be careful to avoid getting infected during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman catches measles, it can seriously harm both her and the baby. Pregnant women have a higher chance of having problems like pneumonia if they get measles. Also, having measles while pregnant can lead to issues. Such as:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Having a baby with low weight
  • Even still birth

Measles can also pass from a pregnant woman to her baby if she gets sick close to when she’s sue to give birth. This is called congenital measles. Babies born with congenital measles might have a rash right after birth or get one soon after. They’re more likely to have serious problems, which could even be life threatening.

What is the Incubation Period for Measles?

The incubation period of a contagious sickness is the time between when you’re exposed to it and when you start feeling sick. For measles, this period lasts about 10 to 14 days. After this time, you might start feeling general symptoms like fever, coughing and a runny nose. Then, a few days later, you’ll notice a rash appearing on your skin. It’s important to know that even if a rash shows up, you can still spread the sickness to others for up to four days. If you think you might have been around someone with measles and you haven’t had the vaccine, it’s a good idea to call your doctor right away.

What are the Symptoms of Measles?

Symptoms of measles usually show up about 10 to 14 days after someone gets infected with the virus. Here’s what they typically look like:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Red, inflamed eyes
  • Small white spots with bluish-white centers inside the mouth called Koplik’s spots
  • A skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that often blend together

The infections happen in stages over about 2 to 3 weeks:

  • Infection and incubation
  • Nonspecific
  • Acute illness and rash
  • Recovery

What are the Causes of Measles?

Measles is a contagious sickness. This means it’s super easy to pass it on to others. It’s caused by a virus that hangs out in the nose and throat of someone who’s infected, whether they’re a kid or an adult. When a person with measles coughs, sneezes, or talks, tiny droplets full of the virus can float into the air. Other people can breathe in these droplets and get infected. These droplets can stick around in the air for about an hour. The droplets can also land on surfaces and stay there for a while. If you touch an infected surface and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you could catch the measles virus. Measles is really contagious from about four days before to four days after the rash shows up. If you haven’t had measles or gotten the vaccine, there’s a high chance about 90% that you’ll get infected if you’re around someone with measles virus.

What are the Risk Factors of Measles?

Things that make you more likely to get measles are:

Not Getting Vaccinated: If you haven’t gotten the measles shot, you’re at a higher risk of catching measles.

Traveling to Other Countries: If you got to places where measles is common, you’re more likely to get it.

Not Getting Enough Vitamin A: If your diet doesn’t have enough vitamin A, you might have more serious symptoms and problems if you get measles.

What are the Complications of Measles?

The complications of measles can include:

Diarrhea and Vomiting: Diarrhea and vomiting which can lead to dehydration (losing too much water from the body).

Ear Infection: It is a common complication of measles caused by bacteria.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection like bronchitis, laryngitis, or croup, where the airways become irritated and swollen.

Pneumonia: It is an infection in the lungs that can be especially dangerous for people with weak immune systems and sometimes lead to death.

Encephalitis: This is a rare but serious complication where the brain becomes irritated and swollen, potentially, causing permanent brain damage.

Pregnancy Problems: Pregnancy issues, including premature birth, low birth weight, and fetal death, if a pregnant person gets measles. It’s important for pregnant people to avoid measles because it can harm the baby.

What is the Prevention of Measles?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that both kids and adults should get the measles vaccine to avoid getting measles.

Measles in Children:

  • The measles vaccine is usually given as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
  • Sometimes, it’s combined with the chickenpox vaccine making it the measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine.
  • Doctors recommend giving kids the MMR vaccine when they’re 12 to 15 months old, and then again when they’re 4 to 6 years old, before they start school.
  • The MMR vaccine is really good at preventing measles. Two doses of it are about 97% effective and they protect you for life.
  • Even if someone does get measles after getting the vaccine, their symptoms are usually not too bad.
  • If your child will be traveling outside the U.S. when they’re 6 to 11 months old, talk to their doctor about getting the measles vaccine earlier.
  • If your child didn’t get both doses of the vaccine at the right times, they might need two doses given four weeks apart.

Babies born to women who got the vaccine or had measles themselves are often safe from measles for about 6 months after they’re born. If a child needs protection from measles before they’re 12 months old, like for traveling to another country they can get the vaccine when they’re as young as 6 months old. But even if a child gets the vaccine early, they still need to get the usual doses at the right ages later on. When giving the MMR vaccine, which combines for measles, mumps, and rubella, can prevent and delay in protecting them from these infections. Plus, they’ll need fewer shots. This combo vaccine is just as safe and works as well as giving the vaccines separately. Any side effects are usually mild, like a sore arm where they got the shot and maybe a fever.

Measles Vaccine in Adults:

You might need the virus vaccine if you’re an adult and:

  • You don’t have proof that you’re already immune to measles.
  • You have a higher chance of getting it like if you’re going to college, traveling outside the U.S. or working in a hospital.
  • If you’re born in 1957 or later, and you’ve already had it before, your body has learned to fight off the infection, so you can’t get measles again. Most people in the U.S. born before 1957 are also immune to it because they’ve had it before.

Proof that your immune to measles can include:

  • Written proof that you got the right virus vaccinations.
  • Lab tests that show you’re immune.
  • Lab tests that show you had it in the past.
  • If you’re not sure whether you need the virus vaccine, talk to your doctor.

Preventing Measles During an Outbreak or Unknown Infections:

If someone in your home has the infection, follow these steps to keep your family and friends safe it they’re not immune:

Isolate: Since it is super contagious from about four days before to four days after a rash shows up, the person with the virus should stay at home and avoid being around other people during this time.

Keep Unvaccinated People Away: People who haven’t been vaccinated like siblings, should also stay away from the person who’s sick with it.

Get Vaccinated: Make sure that anyone who might be at risk of getting it and hasn’t had their shots gets the vaccine as soon as possible. This includes babies older than 6 months and anyone born in 1957 or later who doesn’t have proof that they’re immune. Getting vaccinated with the virus vaccine is important because:

Promoting Widespread Immunity: The virus vaccine has nearly wiped out measles in the U.S., even though not everyone gets vaccinated. This is because of something called herd immunity, which means when enough people are vaccinated, the disease can’t easily spread.

Preventing a Comeback: Herd immunity might be getting weaker because fewer people are getting vaccinated. This has led to more cases of virus in the U.S.

Avoiding a Measles Comeback: When vaccination rate drops, it can come back. For instance, in the UK, a study wrongly linked the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism in 1998. This led to fewer kids getting vaccinated, and in 2008, there were almost 1400 confirmed cases of the virus in England and Wales.

What is the Diagnosis of Measles?

It is usually diagnosed based on a person’s symptoms, medical history, and a physical examination. However, to confirm the diagnosis, a doctor may also perform laboratory tests, such as:

Blood Tests: A blood sample can be treated to check for antibodies to the infection virus, which indicates a current of past infection.

Virus Detection: Sample of saliva, throat swabs, or urine can be tested to detect the infection virus itself techniques like polymerase chain reaction (PCR). It’s important to see a healthcare provider if you suspect you or someone else has it, especially if they haven’t been vaccinated or if they’re at higher risk of complications.

What are the Treatments of Measles?

Once someone has measles, there isn’t a specific medicine to treat it. Treatment focuses on making the person feel more comfortable and preventing complications. The might include:

Resting and getting plenty of sleep:

  • Taking medicine to reduce fever and ease symptoms like cough and sore throat. It’s important to talk to a healthcare provider before giving any medicine to children.
  • To protect someone who hasn’t been vaccinated from getting sick after being exposed to the virus.
  • Giving them the virus vaccines or a medicine called immune globulin timeframe after exposure can help prevent illness. It’s important to talk to a healthcare provider if you think you’ve been exposed to it and you’re not vaccinated.

Post Exposure Vaccination:

If someone doesn’t have immunity to the virus like infants, they can get the measles vaccine within 72 hours after being exposed to the virus. This helps protect them from getting sick. If they do end up getting the virus their symptoms are likely to be milder, and the sickness won’t last as long.

Immune Serum Globulin:

Pregnant women, infants, and individuals with weakened immune systems who are exposed to the virus can receive an injection of antibodies called immune serum globulin. These antibodies can help prevent it or lessen the severity of symptoms if given within six days of exposure to the virus.


Treatment for this infection may include:

Fever Reducers: If you or your child is uncomfortable due to a fever caused by the virus you can use over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, Children’s Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve) to help lower the fever. Make sure to read the labels carefully or ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about the correct dose. However, be cautious when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Although aspirin is safe for children older than 3 years, those recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should avoid aspirin. This is because aspirin has been associated with Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition that can be life-threatening for children with these illnesses.

Antibiotics: If you or your child gets a bacterial infection like pneumonia or an ear infection while having it, your healthcare provider might prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

Vitamin A: Children with low levels of vitamin A are at a higher risk of having a severe case of it. Giving them vitamin A can help make the measles infection less severe. Typically, it’s given as a large dose of 200,000 international units (IU) for children older than a year. Younger children may receive smaller doses.

What is the Difference between MMR Vaccine and Autism?

After the MMR study in 1998, some people in the UK and other places started to worry that the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism. This led to a drop in vaccination rate. However, big medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Academy of Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have looked into his extensively and found no specific proof of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. These organizations say that autism is often noticed in toddlers around 18 to 30 months old, which is also when kids usually get their first MMR vaccine. But just because these two things happen around the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other.

What is the Difference between Chickenpox and Measles, and What to Know About It?

They are caused by different viruses, and they have different symptoms. Both are illnesses caused by viruses. They’re caused by different viruses, though. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella virus, while it also known as rubeola is caused by the virus. In the past, both of these diseases were common among children, but nowadays, we can prevent them with vaccines. There are much fewer cases of it each year in the US compared to chickenpox. Now, let’s explore the differences between both diseases.

What are the Symptoms of Chickenpox and Measles?

The symptoms of chickenpox include:

A rash that initially shows up on your chest, face, and back, but can spread to the rest of your body

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite

The common symptoms of measles include:

  • A rash that first shows up at your hairline or forehead and then spreads downward to other parts of your body
  • Fever
  • Hacking cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Red, inflamed eyes
  • Koplik’s  spots (small red spots with blue white centers found inside your mouth and cheeks)

Both chickenpox and measles result in a distinctive rash, but the way the rash looks differs between the two viruses. This can be an easy way to tell them apart.

What is the Contagious Period of Chickenpox and Measles?

Both are very contagious, meaning it’s easy to pass them on to others. Chickenpox spreads when someone breathes in droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. It can also spread by touching surfaces or fluids from the blisters. You can spread chickenpox up to two days before the rash shows up and until all the blisters have crusted over. It is also spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and by touching contaminated surfaces. With the other virus you can pass it on up to four days before the rash appears and for four days after.

What is the Treatment of Chickenpox and Measles?

Because both are caused by viruses, the treatment mainly involves managing symptoms until the infection goes away. For chickenpox, since the rash can be extremely itchy, your doctor might recommend an antihistamine to help with the itching. Certain individuals are at high risk for complications from chickenpox, including:

  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People taking steroid medication
  • Unvaccinated babies
  • Adults who’ve never had or been vaccinated against chickenpox.

These groups may be given an antiviral medication, like acyclovir, which can help reduce the severity of the infection.

What is the Management of Chickenpox and Measles?

You can help relieve symptoms of both infections by:

  • Resting and drinking plenty of water.
  • Using over the counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever. Note never give aspirin to children.
  • If you have a cough or sore throat, using a humidifier can help ease discomfort.

For dealing with the chickenpox rash:

  • Avoid scratching the chickenpox spots, even if they’re itchy. Scratching can cause scarring or infection. If your child has chickenpox, consider putting gloves on their hands or trimming their fingernails to prevent scratching.
  • Take a cool bath or apply cool compresses.
  • Try an oatmeal bath for relief.
  • Gently pat yourself dry with a clean towel after bathing.
  • Dab calamine lotion on itchy spots, avoiding the eyes and face.
  • Use an over the counter antihistamine like Benadryl to help with itching, your doctor might also prescribe one.
  • If blisters form in your mouth stick to eating cold, bland foods and avoid hot, spicy, and acidic foods.

Chickenpox and Measles Vaccines:

They can be prevented by getting vaccinated. These vaccines are typically given to children as part of their regular vaccination schedule. They require two doses, the first dose is given when the child is between 12 and 15 months old, and the second dose is given between 4 and 6 years old. If you didn’t get vaccinated for either disease when you were a child, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated now. This is only protects you from getting sick, but it also helps stop it from spreading in your community.


What foods are good for measles?

Here are some general dietary recommendation that may include:

  • Hydration
  • Soft, easy to swallow foods
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Protein rich foods
  • Zinc containing foods
  • Avoiding irritating foods

Is milk ok for someone with measles?

Make sure the person eats enough foods with vitamin C and A. These vitamins help the body fight the virus. You can find vitamin A in leafy green, carrots, red bell peppers, milk, and eggs. Vitamin C is in lots of citrus fruits like oranges and limes.

What causes measles in people?

Not having enough Vitamin A can make it worse. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests giving children with it a daily dose of vitamin A by mouth for two days if they live in places where not having enough vitamin A is common.

How does measles spread?

It is a very contagious virus that stays in the mucus of the nose and throat of someone who’s infected. It can spread when the infected person coughs or sneezes. If other people breathe in the germy air or touch something the infected person touched like a doorknob, and then touch eyes, nose, or mouth they can catch the virus.

Can I bathe if I have measles?

Yes, it’s ok to take a bath or shower while you have it. It’s important to eat well, drink enough fluids, and get plenty of rest to help you get better faster. If you’re a child with it your doctor may also give you a Vitamin A supplement, depending on how old you are.

Can I eat eggs if I have measles?

Yes, you can eat eggs while you have it. They contain vitamin A, which is good for your immune system. Other foods that are good for boosting your immunity during measles include oranges, lemons, strawberries, spinach, and dark green leafy vegetables.

What stops the measles virus?

There isn’t medicine that kills the measles virus once you have it. Most people with it get better on their own. They should rest, drink lots of fluids and can take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to help lower their fever and feel better.

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