Measles

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Overview

Measles is a highly contagious illness that primarily spreads via:

Droplets or airborne particles from the noses, mouths, or throats of infected people.

Contact with an infected person’s respiratory secretions or saliva.

Contact with surfaces contaminated with respiratory secretions or saliva.

Despite a great reduction in the number of cases and near eradication of the disease in the United States at the start of the 21st century, measles continues to occur domestically. Measles is usually a childhood disease but can affect individuals of any age. Outbreaks are most common in the winter and spring.

Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10–12 days after infection, include high fever, runny nose, red eyes, and white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading to the rest of the body. Measles is typically most contagious several days before the rash appears. In some cases, measles can lead to severe complications, including fatal pneumonia.

Workers may be exposed to measles whenever the virus is circulating in the community. Some workers also may be exposed to infected individuals who arrive in the U.S. from abroad. Workers who perform services or other activities in homes in affected communities also may be exposed. Workers who have not received the measles vaccine or who have not had the disease can get measles if they are exposed.

The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine can prevent measles. For the vast majority of recipients, the vaccine is safe and effective. As with almost any vaccine, however, a small number of recipients may experience allergic reactions, side effects, or other adverse events. The benefits of vaccination typically far outweigh these risks.


Symptoms

Fever.

Dry cough.

Runny nose.

Sore throat.

Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)

Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek — also called Koplik's spots.

Causes

Measles is caused by a virus found in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult. When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infectious droplets spray into the air, where other people can breathe them in. The infectious droplets can hang in the air for about an hour.

Risk factors

Being unvaccinated. If you haven't had the measles vaccine, you're much more likely to get measles.

Traveling internationally. If you travel to countries where measles is more common, you're at higher risk of catching measles.

Having a vitamin A deficiency.

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Complications

Middle ear infection.

Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)

Infection of the upper airway with trouble breathing and cough (croup)

Diarrhea.

Infection of the brain (encephalitis)

Prevention

There a few ways to prevent becoming ill with measles.

Vaccination

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles. Two doses of the measles vaccine are 97 percentTrusted Source effective at preventing measles infection.

There are two vaccines available — the MMR vaccine and the MMRV vaccine. The MMR vaccine is a three-in-one vaccination that can protect you from measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMRV vaccine protects against the same infections as the MMR vaccine and also includes protection against chickenpox.

Children can receive their first vaccination at 12 months, or sooner if traveling internationally, and their second dose between the ages of 4 and 6. Adults who have never received an immunization can request the vaccine from their doctor.

Some groups shouldn’t receive a vaccination against measles. These groups include:

people who’ve had a previous life-threatening reaction to the measles vaccine or its components

pregnant women

immunocompromised individuals, which can include people with HIV or AIDS, people undergoing cancer treatment, or people on medications that suppress the immune system

Side effects to vaccination are typically mild and disappear in a few days. They can include things like fever and mild rash. In rare cases, the vaccine has been linked to low platelet count or seizures. Most children and adults who receive a measles vaccine don’t experience side effects.