What is measles?
Measles is a viral infection Overview of Viral Infections A virus is a tiny living organism. Viruses are so small they can be seen only with the most powerful microscopes. That's why they're called microorganisms (micro means very small). Other common... read more . It used to be very common in children in the United States. Measles is now rare in the United States because it's prevented by routine childhood vaccines. In parts of the world where fewer children are vaccinated, measles is still common.
Measles is caused by a virus that spreads quickly among unvaccinated people
Symptoms include fever, a runny nose, cough, red eyes, and rash
Measles usually isn’t serious in healthy children, but rarely it can cause brain damage or death
What causes measles?
Measles is caused by a virus. Healthy children who haven't had the vaccine can get measles just by breathing in the virus after someone with measles coughs or sneezes near them.
What are the symptoms of measles?
The first symptoms start 7 to 14 days after infection:
Sometimes, sensitivity to bright light
Tiny red spots with white or bluish-white centers inside the mouth
About 3 to 5 days later, your child may have:
Itchy rash—the rash starts below and in front of the ears, or on the neck, and then spreads to the rest of the body
Fever above 104° F (40° C)
What problems does measles cause?
In healthy children, measles isn’t usually serious. However, measles sometimes leads to serious health problems, such as:
Brain infection (encephalitis Encephalitis Encephalitis is inflammation of your brain, usually caused by an infection. Encephalitis can be caused by a virus directly infecting your brain or when a virus or a misguided immune reaction... read more ), which can cause headache, seizures, and coma about 2 to 14 days after the rash and can cause brain damage or death
About 2 in 1000 children with measles die. Also, many years after having measles, some people get a rare brain problem called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a progressive and usually fatal brain disorder, is a rare complication of measles that appears months or years later and causes mental deterioration, muscle... read more (SSPE), which causes brain damage and death.
How can doctors tell if my child has measles?
Doctors will do a physical exam. They'll look for:
Tiny red spots with blue or bluish-white centers in the mouth (Koplik spots)
Doctors will do blood tests to know for sure if your child has measles. If your child does, they'll tell public health officials, who will try to keep measles from spreading to too many people in your area.
How do doctors treat measles?
There's no treatment that will cure the measles. Have your child rest while the virus runs its course.
To help your child, you can:
Give medicines to lower fever (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
Keep your child warm and comfortable
To lower the chance of complications due to measles, doctors may give your child vitamin A Vitamin A Deficiency Vitamin A deficiency can result from a diet low in vitamin A or an absorption or liver disorder. Night blindness is an early symptom. Blindness can eventually develop. The eyes, skin, and other... read more
How can I prevent measles?
Children get 2 measles shots total, at age 12 to 15 months and at age 4 to 6 years
Children as young as 6 months can get their first shot if needed, such as during a measles outbreak or before traveling outside the United States
The measles vaccine is part of the MMR shot, which is a vaccine that also protects against mumps and rubella
The MMR shot doesn’t cause autism
Some people may have a mild fever and rash after getting the vaccine
Certain people shouldn’t get the MMR shot, including pregnant women and people who are very sick or have a weak immune system