How Measles Is Treated

Supportive care to ease symptoms is all that can be done for measles, though in some cases vitamin A supplements, a post-exposure vaccination, immune serum globulin, and/or ribavirin may help. Although there is no specific measles treatment or cure, you may not be used to your child having a high fever for so long, so it's important to know what to do and make sure your child is comfortable while not exposing other children to measles.

At-Home Treatments

When measles symptoms begin seven to 14 days after you've been infected, they're usually mild to moderate with a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever, and last two to three days. When the rash begins approximately three to five days later, your fever typically spikes and your other symptoms may get worse. You will probably start to feel better a few days later and the rash will begin to fade.

Though some people with measles may need to be hospitalized, it's possible to recover at home as long as you don't develop any complications.

At-home treatment will be mainly supportive and can include, when necessary:

  • Plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Rest
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen to control fever
  • Cool cloths or baths to help control fever and improve comfort level

Hospital Interventions

Even in a regular, uncomplicated case of measles, you can have a  fever of 103 to 105 degrees for five to seven days, and many people will need medical attention as they may be at risk for developing complications like an ear infection, diarrhea, pneumonia, or encephalitis.

Treatments in the hospital, as at home, are mainly supportive and may include any of the above plus one or more of the following:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Oxygen
  • Antibiotics if you end up getting an ear or eye infection or pneumonia, all common complications of measles

Other treatments are targeted at other specific complications that may arise, such as seizures or respiratory failure.

Special Cases

There are four other potential treatments that your doctor may decide to use to either treat your measles or try to prevent you from contracting measles, depending on your age, immune system, and whether or not you've been vaccinated.

Vitamin A

The World Health Organization recommends that all children who have been diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, 24 hours apart. Having a vitamin A deficiency can lead to more severe symptoms, a longer recovery time, and complications, so getting these vitamin boosts can help. If you're an adult with measles, your doctor may also give you vitamin A supplements.

Measles Vaccine

If you haven't been immunized, a measles vaccination may help give you some protection and prevent measles if it's given within 72 hours of exposure. This can be given to infants who are at least 6 months old and have been exposed as well. Even if you still end up getting the measles, it will likely not be as serious and probably won't last as long either. Note that if your baby gets the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and he or she is not yet 12 months old, you will need to have him or her revaccinated at 12 to 15 months and again at 4 to 6 years old.

Immune Serum Globulin

For infants under 6 months of age, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems who have been exposed to measles, an injection of immune serum globulin, which contains antibodies, given within six days of exposure can provide protection against the measles virus and help prevent or lessen the severity of measles if you do contract it.

Ribavirin

Ribavirin, an antiviral medication, is sometimes used for people with compromised immune systems who have been exposed to measles and for those with severe measles infections. The few small studies that have been done show that it seems to be beneficial in shortening the length of illness, reducing the number of complications, and lessening the severity of symptoms, but more research needs to be done.

When Seeking Treatment

If you think you or your child has measles, call your doctor before you go anywhere and be sure to take precautions before you go for your evaluation or to the emergency room so that you don't expose other people. Put a mask over your or your child's face and nose and call ahead to minimize your contact with other people, especially infants who are too young to get their first dose of the MMR vaccine, toddlers, and preschoolers who haven't gotten a booster dose, and children with immune system problems. People with measles are usually considered to be contagious beginning four days before they develop the measles rash to four days after the rash starts.

View Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Measles. Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. In: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Washington D.C. Public Health Foundation; 2015.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapter 7: Measles. Roush SW, Baldy LM, eds. In: Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2012. Updated January 5, 2018.
  • Gans H. Measles: Clinical Manifestations, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention. UpToDate. Updated December 5, 2017.
  • Long SS, Prober CG, Fischer M. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). Measles. Updated January 2018.