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Measles

What is measles?

Measles is a viral illness characterized by a distinct rash and a fever. Spread through airborne droplets of nasal secretions, measles is very contagious. When infected people cough or sneeze, droplets spray into the air and can remain active and contagious for two hours. Once a common childhood disease, it is now rare due to effective immunizations in developed countries. Although usually a mild illness in children, measles can have serious complications and be fatal to children who are immunosuppressed.

What are the symptoms of the measles?

The measles usually begin with flu-like symptoms. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever

  • Runny nose

  • Sore eyes

  • Cough

  • Feeling ill

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Headache

In most cases, three to four days into the course of the disease, a red rash appears, covering the whole body. This rash fades after three days as symptoms subside.

The symptoms of measles may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What complications are commonly associated with measles?

The following are some complications that may occur from the measles:

  • Ear and chest infections (pneumonia)

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

What is the treatment for measles?

Specific treatment for the measles will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your overall health and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Although antibiotics will not treat the measles itself, it may be necessary to treat secondary infections. Usually plenty of fluids and acetaminophen for the fever help make the patient more comfortable.

How can measles be prevented?

Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is a childhood vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella. People who have had the measles are immune for life.

Usually, the first dose of the MMR vaccine is administered when a child is 12 months old, and a second dose is given at 4 to 6 years of age. However, if 28 days have passed since the first dose was administered, a second dose may be given before the age of 4. Infants under 8 months of age usually are safe from contracting the measles, because they have acquired some immunity from their mothers.

Infected individuals should take special care to avoid other people or public places for about a week after the onset of rash. This will help to prevent an outbreak.

Online Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/overview.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/downloads/child/2009/09_0-6yrs_schedule_pr.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/measles/faqs-dis-vac-risks.htm
NIH Medline Plus  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/measles.html
CDC  http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/measles-rubeola.htm

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.