Measles is an infection that spreads quickly. It causes a fever and rash. It was once common in children. It is now less common in the United States due to the use of the measles vaccine.

Measles Rash

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Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread by:

  • Direct contact with nose or throat droplets of people who have measles, such as through kissing
  • Through the air, which is less common, such as through coughing and sneezing

Measles can be spread:

  • 1 to 2 days before symptoms appear
  • 3 to 5 days before the rash
  • Up to 4 days after the rash

Risk Factors

Your risk may be higher if you:

  • Visit places where measles is common
  • Are not vaccinated


Measles symptoms start 10 to 12 days after exposure. They are:

  • Fever, often high
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Pain
  • Red eyes
  • Hacking cough
  • Sore throat
  • Lack of energy
  • Very small whitish spots inside the mouth
  • Raised, itchy red to brownish rash

You will get better 7 to 10 days from the start of the rash.


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It can be diagnosed based on symptoms. Lab tests aren’t needed.


Measles is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics. The focus is on rest and comfort measures such as:

  • Gargling with warm salt water
  • Using a humidifier
  • Pain relievers
  • Cold sponge baths
  • Drinking plenty of liquids and eating soft, bland foods


Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles. It comes as a single vaccine or with:

In some cases, the MMR vaccine is given within 3 days after exposure. This can prevent or lessen symptoms. Immune globulin is given to certain unvaccinated people within 6 days of exposure. This is usually for infants and pregnant women.

If you or someone in your family gets measles, people in the home may need to be vaccinated or given immune globulin.

If you are not vaccinated, avoid being around someone who has measles. Recent outbreaks have occurred in Europe and the United States. They may be due to children who are not vaccinated. Talk to your doctor about the vaccine.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases


Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Public Health Agency of Canada


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Last reviewed May 2018 by James Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 7/18/2018

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