Measles (Rubeola)

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Images of Rubeola (Measles)


Measles (rubeola) is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system that is caused by a virus. It does not occur often in the United States, since immunizations have been required since the 1960s. The development (incubation) period, after the measles virus infects the upper airways (upper respiratory tract), is about 10 days. This child then has 3 or 4 days of cold-like symptoms, followed by a rash. The child usually is 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. Serious complications of measles include blindness, inflammation of the brain caused by infection (encephalitis), severe diarrhea that may potentially lead to dehydration, ear infections, and severe respiratory infections. The most common cause of death associated with measles is from pneumonia. The majority of deaths from measles occur in developing countries.

Who's at risk?

Measles does not often occur in the United States, but it occurs all over the world, primarily in late winter and spring. Most American children have been immunized against measles, but the disease still occurs in migrant workers or people who recently immigrated to the United States.

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.