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Measles (Rubeola) - Topic Overview

What is measles?

Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) infection that causes a rash all over your body. It is also called rubeola or red measles.

The measles vaccine protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. This is why measles is rare in the United States and Canada.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free children’s preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests. Learn more.

Health Insurance Center

What causes measles?

Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The measles virus can travel through the air. This means that you can get measles if you are near someone who has the virus even if that person doesn't cough or sneeze directly on you.

You can spread the virus to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appeared. The virus is most often spread when people first get sick, before they know they have it.

If you have had measles, you can't get it again. Most people born before 1957 have had measles.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms of measles are like a bad cold—a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a hacking cough. The lymph nodes in your neck may swell. You also may feel very tired and have diarrhea and red, sore eyes. As these symptoms start to go away, you will get red spots inside your mouth, followed by a rash camera.gif all over your body.

When adults get measles, they usually feel worse than children who get it.

It usually takes about 7 to 18 days to get symptoms after you have been around someone who has measles. This is called the incubation period.

How is measles diagnosed?

If you think you have measles, call ahead and explain your symptoms before you go to a doctor's office.

After you've had an exam, your doctor may order a blood test and/or viral culture if he or she suspects that you have measles.

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