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Measles Information

Measles is a viral infectious disease that most often occurs among children. It causes a red, blotchy rash and fever, as well as a dry cough, runny nose and sore throat.

At UPMC in central Pa., we provide treatment of measles cases and administer measles vaccines. For more information on whether you or a loved one should receive the measles vaccine, contact your primary care provider or call our Nurse Advice Line 24/7 at 866-9-NURSE1 (866-968-7731). Our urgent care centers and walk-in clinics are available for emergencies.

How do you get infected with measles?

The measles virus is highly contagious. It reproduces in the nose and throat and spreads when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes. You don't have to come into contact with someone with the disease. The virus can remain active for several hours if it lands on a surface such as a toilet or sink.

If you are exposed to the virus, you will not show symptoms for up to 10 days. Someone susceptible to measles who is exposed to the virus almost always comes down with the disease. If you have measles, you can spread the disease from about four days before the rash appears to about four days after. If the measles rash has been present for more than five days, it is no longer communicable.

What are the signs and symptoms of infection?

Measles symptoms usually include:

  • Mild fever, turning into cold-like symptoms that can last for a few days.
  • Rash that shows up first on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body.
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Dry cough
  • White spots on the inside cheek lining

Complications can arise from measles. When your immune system is compromised by the virus, you may develop an ear infection, bronchitis or pneumonia.

Who is most likely to be affected?

People who did not receive the measles vaccine or who only received one dose of the vaccine are at risk of developing measles. Someone who received the proper vaccination or who has already had measles is not at risk.

If you are not sure if you had the measles vaccine, look for a copy of your vaccine record. You can also request the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Those who received the killed measles vaccine should get the new vaccine. The old one will not protect them against measles.

Vitamin A deficiency can make you more susceptible to developing a severe case of the measles. If you travel abroad, you may also be at risk. While the United States has a very high rate of measles vaccination, the rates in other countries are not as high.

When should you see a doctor?

If you think you have been exposed to measles and you are not immune, you should contact your primary care physician immediately. They may need to take precautionary steps so you do not expose others to measles. Tell your doctor your symptoms and any possible interactions with people who have measles. A blood test can confirm the diagnosis.

How are measles treated?

Measles do not have a preferred treatment. Your doctor may recommend a fever reduction medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Do not take aspirin, which has been linked to Reye's syndrome when taken during a chicken pox-like virus such as measles.

For home remedies, your physician may recommend that you:

  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Drink fluids.
  • Use a humidifier to relieve sore throat.
  • Shield your eyes from sunlight.