/Measles (Rubeola)

Measles (Rubeola)

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious virus that is present in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune can also become infected.

Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after the rash appears.

Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.

  • As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
  • About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
  • For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.

Measles may cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely or have a low-birth-weight baby.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Symptoms of measles typically appear about seven to 14 days after person has been exposed but can take up to 21 days. The illness begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red/watery eyes (conjunctivitis).

Two to three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots might appear inside the mouth. These are called Koplik spots.

Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.

How is measles spread?

The mucus in the nose and throat of an infected person contains the measles virus. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, droplets containing the virus are sprayed into the air. The droplets can directly land in other people’s noses or throats when they breathe.

The virus can remain active for up to two hours in the air or on surfaces, and people’s hands can transfer the virus to their nose or throat from a contaminated surface (door knobs, countertops, keyboards, faucets).

The virus can be spread by a person with measles from four days prior to the onset of the rash to four days after the onset.

How is measles diagnosed?

Diagnosis of measles used to be primarily based on the signs and symptoms of an infected person. Since vaccinations have made measles so uncommon in the United States, a confirmatory blood test is now recommended.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

  • Children less than 12 months of age who are too young to receive the vaccine
  • People born in or after 1957 who have not been vaccinated and have not had measles
  • People vaccinated before age one

How can measles be prevented?

  • Vaccinate children at appropriate ages with the first vaccination to be given between 12 and 15 months of age and the second dose between ages 4 and 6.
  • People exposed to measles should check their immunization record or consult their physician or local health department to see if they need a protective vaccination.
  • People with measles should be separated from non-immune people. This includes exclusion from public settings such as daycare centers, schools, or work.

Is the measles vaccine safe?

Measles vaccine has an excellent record for safety. However, people with poor immune systems should receive the vaccine only after they consult with their physician.

Children with high fevers should have their vaccinations delayed until they have recovered. Women who are pregnant or who are considering becoming pregnant in the next three months should postpone receiving the vaccine.

How come someone who has been vaccinated still gets measles?

The measles vaccine is highly effective; however, some people may not be adequately protected. Recommendations for measles vaccination may vary depending on your age, occupation or health status.  For additional information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know.

Where can I get more information?

Contact your physician or the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance at (702) 759-1300.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on its website. Visit the CDC’s About Measles and Complications of Measles webpages.

Contact Information

(702) 759-1000

Updated on: March 15, 2019

Skip to content