Measles Update

As you may have seen in the news recently, health officials in Houston confirmed new cases of measles. We want you and your family to be informed about this disease and what you can do to protect your family.

Below is some additional information about measles, how it’s contracted and spread, as well as signs and symptoms. The best way to prevent measles is through vaccination.

Measles (Rubeola)

Measles, historically also called "big red" measles or "10-day" measles, is a viral respiratory illness. It causes high fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes with severe sensitivity to light, and a red, blotchy rash or skin eruption. There is a distinct rash that helps in making the diagnosis.

Measles is spread from one person to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and mouth because the virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat. It is also spread through coughing and sneezing (airborne droplets) from an infected person.

Also, measles can live for up to two hours in airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed. A person who touches a surface that has measles virus on it and then touches the eyes, nose or mouth, or a person who breathes the infected air can then get measles illness. 

Measles is a very contagious disease and 9 out of 10 people who are not protected by having received the measles vaccine or the measles illness will get measles after being exposed to a measles case.

If you’re concerned, contact your child’s pediatrician.

Causes & Risk Factors

Measles virus, the cause of measles, is classified as a Morbillivirus. When measles was a common illness, it was mostly seen in the winter and spring. Measles is preventable by immunization with two doses of the measles vaccine.

Symptoms & Types

It generally takes from 7 to 14 days – but sometimes as long as 21 days – for a child to develop symptoms of measles after being exposed. It is important to know a child is contagious about four days before the rash appears and can pass the infection to others before they even know they have measles.

During the early phase of the infection (which lasts between one and four days), symptoms usually resemble those of an upper respiratory infection with fever. The following are the common symptoms and signs of measles. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Hacking cough
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) and complaints that light hurts the eyes
  • Fever that may be higher than 103 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Small spots with white centers (Koplik's spots) on the inside of the cheek (usually occur two or three days after symptoms begin)
  • Rash. The rash normally appears about four days after symptoms begin. The rash appears as red, flat spots that start on the face near the hairline and spread down to the trunk, arms, legs and feet. Small bumps may also appear on top of the flat, red spots. When the rash appears, the fever typically becomes higher. After three to seven days, the rash will begin to clear, leaving a brownish discoloration and sometimes peeling skin. However, the typical rash may not develop in children whose immune systems are compromised.
  • Severe diarrhea 

Always contact your child's health care provider if you are concerned or have any questions. The symptoms of measles may resemble other skin conditions or medical problems. Some people who get measles can suffer from serious complications and may need to be admitted to a hospital. 

Diagnosis & Tests

Measles is usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. The characteristic measles rash is unique, so many cases are diagnosed after a physical examination. In addition, your child's doctor may order a blood test or a throat or nose swab to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment & Care

Specific treatment for measles will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health and medical history
  • How sick your child is
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last

The goal of treatment for measles is to help decrease the severity of the symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics won't work. Treatment may include:

  • Increased fluid intake
  • Acetaminophen for fever (DO NOT GIVE A CHILD ASPIRIN)

How is Measles prevented?

Since the use of the measles (or rubeola) vaccine, the incidence of measles has decreased substantially. The measles vaccine is usually given in combination with the mumps and rubella vaccine. It is called the MMR. It is usually given when the child is 12 to 15 months old, and then again between the ages of 4 and 6 years. No early or additional vaccine doses are recommended at this time.

MMR vaccine will prevent measles in 93 percent of people after getting the first dose of MMR and in 97 percent of people after getting two doses. 

Other ways to prevent the spread of measles include:

  • Keeping children home from school or day care for four days after the rash appears. Always contact your child's health care provider for advice.
  • Make sure all of your child's contacts are properly immunized with two doses of MMR.