5 Must-Know Facts About the Measles

Get the truth about the disease that’s making headlines. 

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After decades of obscurity in the U.S., the measles—the viral disease known for its spreading red rash and high fever—is on the rise once more. In 2000, measles was officially eliminated in the U.S. Yet in 2014 there were 644 cases reported, and many more have emerged since. Click through to learn more about the measles outbreak in America and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

Medically reviewed in June 2019.

Fact #1. Early Symptoms Are Flu-Like

2 / 6 Fact #1. Early Symptoms Are Flu-Like

Measles symptoms can first appear to be a bad cold or a nasty flu. Signs come in stages, starting off with a high fever, runny nose, water eyes, cough and sore throat. Tiny white spots inside the mouth may also pop up within two to three days. Three to five days after symptoms first appear, a non-itchy red rash forms at the hairline and can spread all over the body.  

Find out how measles is diagnosed

Fact #2. It is Alarmingly Contagious

3 / 6 Fact #2. It is Alarmingly Contagious

An infected person can pass the virus through the air, usually by coughing or sneezing. And it gets worse: The virus can stay in the air or contaminated surface for up to two hours. If you breathe that air or touch an infected surface and then touch your nose or mouth, you risk becoming infected—long after the infected person has left the area. 

Fact #3. No Treatment Exists

4 / 6 Fact #3. No Treatment Exists

With plenty of rest and hydration, symptoms should subside within a week or two. Your doctor may suggest ways to ease symptoms, like using a humidifier for a cough or taking ibuprofen for the fever. If your child is infected, keep him or her away from other children to avoid spreading the disease. Contact a doctor if symptoms seem to worsen or don’t get better. Shortness of breath, chest pain or a cough with sputum may be signs of pneumonia.

Fact #4. Adults Are At Risk

5 / 6 Fact #4. Adults Are At Risk

While measles are most commonly known for affecting kids, adults are susceptible, too. In fact, the risk of death from the disease is higher in adults (and infants) than in children. Complications for adults can also be severe, especially for infected pregnant women, leading to higher chances of early labor, miscarriages, and low birth weights. 


Fact #5. You Can Protect Yourself

6 / 6 Fact #5. You Can Protect Yourself

Measles is a one-time disease—if you’ve already had it you won’t contract it again. For those that haven’t gotten it before, vaccination is crucial. All children should receive two rounds of the MMR vaccine by age six, and adults who aren’t immune should get at least one. Vaccination is vital to put an end to the spread of the disease.  

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