Measles (Rubeola)

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Measles (also known as rubeola) is an infection of the respiratory system that is caused by the measles virus. Measles is highly contagious and is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is best prevented by vaccination.

 Measles is more common in developing countries, since most people in industrialized nations are vaccinated. However, "cluster outbreaks" (local outbreaks in communities with clusters of unvaccinated individuals) still occur in the United States.

The symptoms of measles generally begin between 7 and 14 days after the person was infected and start with 3-5 days of high fevers, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes followed by a rash. The rash consists of small red bumps on top of flat red spots that begin on the head and face near the hairline and move downward toward the feet to cover the body.

The patient is usually well after 2 weeks of illness and then has life-long resistance (immunity) to becoming infected again. Complications from measles more commonly occur in children aged younger than 5 and adults older than 20 and include ear infections and diarrhea. Serious complications of measles include blindness, inflammation of the brain caused by infection (encephalitis), and pneumonia. About one in every 1000 children will die from complications of a measles infection.

Who's at risk?

Measles occurs all over the world, primarily in late winter and spring. Most children in the United States have been immunized against measles. Measles is often brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers who spread it to susceptible individuals with whom they have contact.

Signs and Symptoms

  • The first signs of infection are a bad cough, runny nose, fever, and red, watery eyes.
  • Sometimes, at this stage, small red spots with blue-white centers appear inside the mouth ("Koplik spots").
  • After 3–4 days, a rash begins with red spots, first appearing behind the ears and at the forehead, spreading down the neck, arms, trunk, and finally the legs. The red spots can merge together on the face.
  • Measles does not usually itch.

Self-Care Guidelines

  • Make sure everyone in contact with the ill child has been vaccinated against measles or had measles in the past.
  • Treat fever with acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen.
  • Encourage the child to drink fluid and to rest.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer to reduce coughing.

When to Seek Medical Care

  • Call your child's doctor if you think he or she has measles, particularly if the child is an infant or has any medication or condition that weakens the immune system.
  • Call the doctor immediately if the child has problems breathing, confusion, vision problems, or pain in the chest or belly.

Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe

There are no medications to cure measles, but the doctor can recommend ways to reduce symptoms such as fever, cough, or itching.

Trusted Links

MedlinePlus: MeaslesClinical Information and Differential Diagnosis of Rubeola (Measles)


Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology, pp.1258-1259. New York: Mosby, 2003.

Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed. pp.2044, 2047-2048. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

World Health Organization. Measles. Revised November 2007. Accessed October 30, 2008.