A doctor giving checking on the heartbeat of a young girl

Measles

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does the measles rash look like?

    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.

  • How is measles spread?

    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.

  • How effective is the measles vaccine?

    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.

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Page Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles signs and symptoms. Updated June 13, 2019.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles signs and symptoms. Updated June 13, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles is easily transmitted. Updated February 5, 2018.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine for measles. Updated June 13, 2019.

  5. 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

  6. World Health Organization. Fact sheets: measles. Updated December 5, 2019.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine for measles (MMR shot). Updated June 13, 2019.

  8.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMRV vaccine information statement. Updated August 15, 2019