5 Must-Know Facts About Measles

Get the truth about the disease that’s been making an ominous comeback. 

Medically reviewed in December 2020

Updated on October 14, 2021

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After decades of obscurity in the U.S., measles—the viral disease known for its spreading red rash and high fever—is on the rise once more. In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. Yet in 2014 there were 644 cases reported, and a spike of 1,282 cases in 2019. Learn more about measles in America and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

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Fact #1: Early Symptoms Are Flu-Like

Measles symptoms can first mimic those of a bad cold or a nasty flu. The signs come in stages, starting off with a high fever, runny nose, watery eyes, cough, and sore throat. Tiny white spots may also pop up inside the mouth 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.  

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Fact #2: It Is Alarmingly Contagious

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

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Fact #3: No Treatment Exists

With plenty of rest and hydration, symptoms should subside within a week or two. Your healthcare provider (HCP) may suggest ways to ease symptoms, such as using a humidifier for a cough or taking ibuprofen for a fever. If your child is infected, keep them away from other children to avoid spreading the disease. Contact a HCP if symptoms don’t improve or seem to worsen. Shortness of breath, chest pain, or a cough with sputum may be signs of pneumonia.

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Fact #4: Adults Are At Risk

While measles is 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. In these cases, the disease may contribute to higher chances of early labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight. 

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Fact #5: You Can Protect Yourself

Measles is a one-time disease. In other words, if you’ve already had it, you won’t contract it again. But for those people who haven’t previously had the infection, vaccination against measles is crucial. All children should receive two rounds of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine by age six. Adults who aren’t immune should get at least one round of the shot. Vaccination is vital to put an end to the spread of the disease.  


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles (Rubeola): Measles Cases and Outbreaks. Page last reviewed October 7, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles (Rubeola): Measles Elimination. Page last reviewed November 5, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles (Rubeola): Measles Symptoms and Complications. Page last reviewed November 5, 2020.

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