Anju Goel, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine. She has over 10 years of experience in the California public health system addressing communicable disease, health policy, and disaster preparedness.
Measles is a type of paramyxovirus that is highly contagious and causes symptoms such as red eyes, fever, runny nose, and a cough, followed by a rash that starts on the face several days later. Symptoms usually begin about seven to 14 days after exposure to someone with the virus, but because measles is relatively uncommon thanks to vaccination, doctors aren't always quick to spot the signs.
Health experts hope to one day eradicate measles just as smallpox has been wiped out, but unfortunately, measles is still a big concern worldwide. In fact, the virus that causes measles is one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable death in children under age 5 worldwide, yet outbreaks still occur—even in the United States.
The classic measles spots, known as Koplik's spots, are small red spots with a bluish-white center found on the inside of your mouth. Three to five days after the first symptoms appear, the measles rash will develop, which is a red, blotchy rash that starts around the hairline and moves down the body to the neck, trunk, and extremities.
The measles virus lives in the nose and throat and is highly contagious. Measles is spread by direct contact with an infected person or by indirect contact via droplets and aerosols spread by coughing, talking, or sneezing. The virus can live up to two hours in the air and on surfaces.
The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, is more than 97% effective when you receive the booster dose after the initial shot, which on its own is 93% effective. In the United States, measles cases have declined by more than 99% since the vaccination program started in 1963. The MMRV vaccine, which also protects against varicella (chicken pox), is 95% effective.
The period of time during which an infected person can pass the disease to others, also known as the infectious period. The communicable period for measles lasts from four days before the measles rash develops until four days after the rash erupts.
The period of time between when you were exposed to a virus or bacteria and when you first start to see symptoms of an infection. It's essentially the time it takes for the pathogen to multiply enough to produce symptoms in the host. The incubation period of measles is fairly long, at 7 to 14 days.
A disease caused by pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, or parasites) that may be spread easily from one person to another and can cause infection.1 Measles is a type of infectious disease spread through direct contact and droplets and aerosols released into the air.
The MMR vaccine protects against three diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella. The vaccine is typically administered at ages 12 to 15 months for the first dose and between ages 4 to 6 for the second dose. MMR vaccine is very safe and effective, and the cost is covered by most health insurance plans.
The MMRV vaccine protects against varicella (chicken pox) in addition to measles, mumps, and rubella. It is typically administered at ages 12 to 15 months for the first dose and between ages 4 to 6 for the second dose. Most people vaccinated with MMRV are protected for life.
An eruptive skin rash that is diffuse (widespread) and caused by a viral infection. The rash is often part of a system-wide illness that includes fever and body aches. Rashes may be itchy or not, and treatment depends on the underlying viral cause.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles signs and symptoms. Updated June 13, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles is easily transmitted. Updated February 5, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine for measles. Updated June 13, 2019.
Di Pietrantonj C, Rivetti A, Marchione P, Debalini MG, Demicheli V. Vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD004407. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004407
World Health Organization. Fact sheets: measles. Updated December 5, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine for measles (MMR shot). Updated June 13, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMRV vaccine information statement. Updated August 15, 2019