• Print Print
  • Share
  • Text Size: A | A | A

Measles (Rubeola)

Common measles (rubeola) is a viral illness that mostly affects children and adults who have not received the measles vaccination. The virus is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing or by direct contact (touching the sick person and then touching your own eyes, nose or mouth). It takes about 1 to 2 weeks after exposure for the illness to develop. The illness usually lasts for 1 to 2 weeks.

Measles symptoms include a severe rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes. Measles can also cause ear infections and pneumonia. In rare cases, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) may occur.

Home care

  • Keep your child home from school or daycare for at least 4 days after the rash first appears.

  • Keep your child away from any woman who might be pregnant.

  • Fever increases water loss from the body.

    • For infants under 1 year: Continue regular feedings (formula or breast). Between feedings give plain oral rehydration solutions available from grocery and drug stores without a prescription. Ask your pharmacist for a recommendation.

    • For children over 1 year: Give plenty of fluids like water, juice, gelatin, water, non-caffeinated soda, ginger ale, lemonade, or popsicles.

  • It is OK if your child doesn't want to eat solid foods for a few days as long as he or she drinks plenty of fluids.

  • Ask your child's healthcare provider before giving any over-the-counter medicines.

  • Coughing is a normal part of this illness. A cool mist humidifier at the bedside may be helpful. Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children under 6 years unless your doctor has specifically advised you to do so.

  • Periods of sleeplessness and irritability are common. A congested child will sleep best with the head and upper body propped up on pillows or with the head of the bed frame raised on a 6-inch block.

  • Suction the nose of infants with a rubber bulb syringe. You may put 2 to 3 drops of saltwater (saline) nose drops in each nostril before suctioning to help remove secretions. Saline nose drops are available without a prescription. You can make it by adding 1/4 teaspoon table salt in 1 cup of water.

  • Don't let anyone smoke around your child. Tobacco smoke can make the cough worse and your child sicker.

Preventing spread of the virus

  • Measles is contagious from 4 days before the rash appears until 4 days after the rash appears. During this 8 to 10-day period, keep children home from school or daycare. Adults should stay home from school or work. A sick person should avoid mass transit (buses, trains, airplanes) and crowded places until the contagious period has passed.

  • Measles in a pregnant woman can cause miscarriage or premature delivery. If the infected person has been in contact with any pregnant woman during the contagious period, tell the woman to contact her healthcare provider.

  • Notify any school, camp, daycare, or other facility that your child may have gone to during the contagious period. Adults with measles should notify their workplace.

  • Any person who has not had measles before and has never been immunized should contact their healthcare provider to discuss if vaccination is advised.

Follow-up care

Follow up with the child's healthcare provider, or as directed by our staff.

When to seek medical advice

Unless your child's healthcare provider advises otherwise, call the provider right away if:

  • Your child is 3 months old or younger and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher. Get medical care right away. Fever in a young baby can be a sign of a dangerous infection.

  • Your child is younger than 2 years of age and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) that continues for more than 1 day.

  • Your child is 2 years old or older and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) that continues for more than 3 days.

  • Your child is of any age and has repeated fevers above 104°F (40°C).

Also call for:

  • Rash turning dark purple

  • Earache, sinus pain

  • Wheezing

  • Repeated diarrhea or vomiting

  • Signs of dehydration: No wet diapers for 8 hours in infants, little or no urine in older children, very dark urine, or sunken eyes.

Call 911

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Stiff or painful neck

  • Unusual fussiness, drowsiness, or confusion

  • Fast breathing:

    • Over 40 breaths per minute for children less than 3 months old

    • Over 30 breaths per minute for children over 3 months old