Rubeola, or “red” measles, is a respiratory disease caused by a paramyxovirus. Although the measles virus is closely related to certain animal diseases such as canine (dog) and porcine (pig) distemper, it is a disease unique to humans, and is not found in animals. Measles is highly contagious and is seasonal, occurring in cyclical “waves” around the world.
Before the first measles vaccine was licensed in the U.S. in 1963, measles increases were seen generally in winter and spring every two to three years. Rubeola (not to be confused with rubella, a less serious infection commonly known as “German measles”) begins with 2-4 days of cough, fatigue, runny nose and eyes, and a fever that slowly gets higher and higher. Measles can be mistaken for influenza before the signature measles rash appears around the fourth or fifth day after the fever begins.1,2
After a person comes in close contact with someone infected with measles, the incubation period before symptoms begins is between seven and 18 days, with an average of 14 days. Symptoms of measles usually begin with a fever.3,4
Doctors diagnose measles by looking for the presence of tiny white specks surrounded by a red halo inside the cheeks of an infected person’s mouth.5 As the fever progresses, cold symptoms develop, such as cough, runny eyes and nose. Conjunctivitis (inflammation or infection of the membranes of the eyes) can be a complication.
Measles is most infectious during the three days before the rash appears. The rash usually begins around the face and neck, and works its way down the body, with increasing lesions often seen on the face and trunk. The rash lasts 3-7 days and fades from the body in the order in which it appeared. The fever can linger two or three more days, and the cough as long as 10 days after the rash subsides.6
Sometimes persons with measles will not be able to tolerate bright lights. They also may have a sore, red mouth. While rubella and scarlet fever can also have a measles-like rash, usually there is no cough, runny nose and cold symptoms (coryza) or conjunctivitis.7
Other occasional illnesses that may develop along with measles are croup, bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Persons who have had measles infection usually will acquire long-lasting immunity.8
Measles virus is easily destroyed by light, high temperatures, UV radiation or disinfectants.9
It is important to understand the risks and benefits associated with the measles and MMR vaccine as you make your health decisions. To learn more about measles and MMR vaccine please click and read through the topics below.
Learn More About MeaslesClick here to view, download, or print all sections below as one document or webpage.
NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Measles and the Measles vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents below, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.
1 Kasper D, Fauci A, Longo D, et al. Measles. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 16th Edition. 2005.
2 Grabenstein JD. ImmunoFacts: Vaccines and Immunologic Drugs 2011. Wolters & Kluwer. p 293.
3 Kasper D, Fauci A, Longo D, et al. Measles. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 16th Edition. 2005.
4 Perry RT, Halsey NA. The Clinical Significance of Measles: A Review. J Infect Dis. 2004. 189 (Supplement 1): 54-516. Online. (Accessed March 2012)
5 National Institutes of Health. Emerging & Re-emerging Infectious Disease—Student Activities 5—Making Hard Decisions Measles. No date. Online. (Accessed March 2012)
6 Perry RT, Halsey NA. The Clinical Significance of Measles: A Review. J Infect Dis. 2004. 189 (Supplement 1): 54-516. Online. (Accessed March 2012)
7 Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. Department of Child and Adolescent Health. World Health Organization. Treating Measles in Children. 2004. MeaslesInitiative.org. Online. (Accessed March 2012)
8 Kasper D, Fauci A, Longo D, et al. Measles. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 16th Edition. 2005.
9 Infection Research. Measles. No Date. Online. (Accessed March 2012)