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What is measles? — Measles is an infection that can cause a rash, fever, and cough. It is caused by infection with the measles virus. This virus spreads very easily from person to person.
There is a vaccine (that comes in a shot) that keeps people from getting measles. It is called the MMR vaccine. It protects against 3 different infections: measles, mumps, and rubella. People need 2 doses of the MMR vaccine to protect against measles.
People who are at risk for measles include:
Children too young to get a measles shot
People who have never had a measles shot
People who did not get a second measles shot
People who got a shot that did not work well
Going to countries where the measles vaccine is not common, or being around people from these countries, can raise a person's risk of getting measles. Even in places where the vaccine is easy to get, the risk of measles goes up if lots of people choose not to get the vaccine. This has led to an increase in measles cases in certain parts of the United States.
Measles can cause long-term problems with the lungs, ears, or brain. These problems can be dangerous. People can die from measles and the problems it causes.
Some people have a higher risk of serious problems from measles. They include:
People with HIV/AIDS or cancer
Pregnant women
People who do not get enough food or vitamins
Very old people
What are the symptoms of measles? — The first symptoms can include:
Fever – Up to 104ºF (40ºC)
Feeling sick, like with a cold
Loss of appetite
Spots in the mouth – These can look like grains of salt.
After the first symptoms, many people have:
Red, runny eyes. The eyes might also be extra sensitive to bright light.
Sneezing and coughing
A red rash that starts on the face and spreads to the body. The spots in the rash can form red patches.
A sore throat
Most people start feeling better about 2 days after the rash starts. After 3 or 4 days, the rash starts to turn brown and go away. The skin might peel or flake off, like after a sunburn. Many people have a cough for 1 or 2 weeks after the rash goes away.
Some people who get measles have other symptoms, such as a headache, chest pain, or breathing problems.
How does measles spread? — If you have not had measles or the MMR vaccine, you can catch measles from an infected person. This can happen if you are around an infected person or go somewhere an infected person has been.
A person with measles can start spreading it about 5 days before he or she gets a rash. It can spread for about 4 days after the rash is gone.
Should I call the doctor or nurse if I think my child or I have measles? — Yes. If you or your child has a fever and rash, call the doctor or nurse. He or she can ask questions and tell you what to do next. Don't go to the doctor's office without calling first. Measles spreads easily, so you could give it to other people at the doctor's office.
What if I was near someone with measles? — If you or your child has not had the MMR vaccine, call the doctor or nurse. It might still be possible to avoid getting sick. If you get it soon enough, the vaccine can stop measles or make it less serious. People who cannot get the vaccine can take a medicine that can help keep them from getting sick.
Is there a test for measles? — Yes. The doctor or nurse can do blood tests to check for measles. But these tests might not be needed. A doctor or nurse can often tell if a person has measles by doing an exam and learning about the symptoms.
How is measles treated? — For most people, there is no specific treatment. If you or your child have it, you can:
Drink plenty of fluids
Take acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) to help with fever and aches.
Do not give aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin to children younger than 18. In children, aspirin can cause a serious problem called Reye syndrome.
Doctors give vitamin A to some children with measles. If your child needs treatment in the hospital, or has another health condition besides measles, the doctor might give vitamin A.
If measles causes other health problems, such as ear infections, doctors can usually treat them. But a few health problems from measles can be life-threatening.
Can measles be prevented? — Yes. The MMR vaccine prevents infection.
All children should get the MMR vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old. Then they need a second shot when they are 4 to 6 years old. A child should have the second shot before he or she starts school. Some babies and children need to get the vaccine earlier than usual, if they:
Live in an area where there is a measles outbreak
Need to travel to an area where there is a measles outbreak
Need to travel outside of the United States
Some older children and adults also need the MMR vaccine, such as:
Hospital or health care workers
Students who don't have written proof of 2 shots
People traveling outside the United States who don't have written proof of 1 shot
In the past, some people in the US got a vaccine that did not work well. If you got a measles shot before 1968, talk to your doctor or nurse.
Some people should wait or get tested before getting the MMR vaccine. This includes people with HIV/AIDS or cancer and people taking certain medicines. When healthy people get the vaccine, it helps protect the people who cannot get it.
The MMR vaccine has a small amount of gelatin and an antibiotic. If you or your child have any allergies, or had a bad reaction to a vaccine, tell your doctor or nurse.
Does the MMR vaccine cause autism? — No. After doing many careful studies, scientists have not found any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Many years ago, 1 study said there was a link between autism and vaccines. But that study turned out to be false.
What if I want to get pregnant? — If you want to get pregnant, be sure your MMR vaccine is up-to-date. This means knowing if you got it in the past. If you are not sure, your doctor or nurse can do a blood test to check.
Getting measles when you are pregnant could cause a miscarriage. This is when a pregnancy ends before a woman has been pregnant for 20 weeks. Or the baby could be born too early. Babies who are born early can have serious life-long health problems.
The MMR vaccine must be given before pregnancy. After you get it, wait at least 4 weeks before trying to get pregnant.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 83973 Version 11.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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