Measles Facts

What is Measles? 

Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that lives in an infected person’s nose or throat. The virus is very contagious, but it can be prevented through vaccination. 

How is measles spread?

Measles is a highly contagious virus that travels through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. The virus can live on an infected surface, like a door knob or table top, for up to two hours. People get infected by breathing the germs in from the air or by putting their fingers in their mouth after touching an infected surface. People who have not been vaccinated have a 90 percent chance of contracting measles just by being in the same room as an infected person.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Symptoms for measles take one to two weeks to appear after a person has been affected. They include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Full-body rash
  • Ear infection
  • Aches

Measles usually starts with a moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat.

  • Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth.
  • Three to five days after symptoms start, a red or reddish-brown rash appears. The rash usually starts on a person's face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, chest, arms, legs and feet.
  • When the rash appears, a person's fever may rise to more than 104 degrees.
  • After a few days, the fever ends and the rash fades.
  • People can be contagious before the rash appears and up to five days after the rash starts.

What should I do if I think I have the measles?

If you think you or someone you know has the measles, call your doctor. People with measles are highly contagious and should not immediately go to the doctor’s office. Special arrangements must be made for you to be evaluated to protect other patients and medical staff from infection. If you don't have a doctor, call a local emergency room.

How can I prevent the measles?

The easiest way to prevent measles is to receive the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

  • Cases of measles in the United States have dropped by more than 99 percent since the vaccine was introduced in 1963.
  • Children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose should be given between the ages of 12-25 months. The second dose should be given between the ages of 4 and 6 years old.