Measles

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. The disease spreads quickly and can be serious or even fatal for small children. The disease kills hundreds of thousands of children each year around the world, most under the age of 5.

Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and about 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis. (This is a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, and can leave the child deaf or intellectually disabled.)

Over the recent years, measles has re-emerged as a threat in the United States. Outbreaks across the country have put children at risk. Learn more about current outbreaks of measles.

If you suspect you or one of your family members has been exposed to measles, do not go to your doctor or healthcare provider. Instead, call them and explain the situation. Measles is highly contagious and could infect others in the waiting room if you have been exposed to the disease. Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you the next steps to take to protect yourself, your family and your community.

Symptoms

Measles signs and symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Signs and symptoms of measles typically include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • A skin rash of tiny red spots that starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body
  • Ear infection
  • Diarrhea

Prevention

To prevent measles, children should be vaccinated with the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

For the best protection against measles, your children need to receive the two recommended doses of the MMR vaccine. One dose of MMR vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles, and two doses are about 97% effective. The doses should be given between 12 and 15 months and between 4 and 6 years of age. If you are traveling with an infant less than twelve months of age, please visit the travel section.

To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

Adults born after 1957 who have not had the measles or the MMR vaccine (and don’t show evidence of immunity) should receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Learn more about the recommended vaccines for adults.