Public Health Fact Sheet
What is Measles?
Measles (rubeola) is a serious respiratory disease that causes a rash and fever. Measles can have serious complications such as ear infections, encephalitis, and in rare cases death. It is very contagious and is caused by a virus. Measles is preventable by vaccine. Persons who have not had the disease and have not been immunized are susceptible.
How is Measles spread?
Measles is spread from person-to-person through direct contact as well as by in-direct contact through airborne spread of droplets in the form of sneezing, coughing, and speaking. Measles can be spread through even minimal air exposure. A person can be infected with measles just by being in the same room with an infected person, even up to 2 hours after the infected person has left.
How long after exposure until symptoms begin and how long is a person contagious?
Symptoms usually begin 7-14 days after exposure, but can appear as long as 21 days after exposure. A person is considered contagious as early as four days before developing a rash through four days after the rash appears. Measles is highly contagious.
What do I do if I am exposed?
If you have been vaccinated with two appropriately timed MMR vaccines or have had a confirmed case of measles, you are considered protected. In addition, persons born prior to 1957 and those with lab-confirmed immunity are considered protected. Unvaccinated individuals need to get vaccinated within 72 hours of exposure the vaccine may provide protection. If you have been exposed or if symptoms develop, do not visit your doctor or emergency room, unless you call ahead so they can take precautions to prevent exposure to others. Stay home if you are sick. Measles is highly contagious.
How is Measles treated?
There is no specific treatment and no cure for Measles. The treatment is supportive care to relieve the symptoms and address complications.
Symptoms of Measles
- Fever (101F or higher) 3-4 days before appearance of rash
- Runny nose (coryza)
- Red watery eyes (conjunctivitis)
Blotchy red rash appears 4-7 days after other symptoms. Rash usually starts on the face and spreads to trunk and extremities
- Tiny white spots (Koplik Spots) on the inner cheeks, gums and roof of the mouth appear 2-3 days after other symptoms appear