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What Is Measles? Common Measles Questions Answered


Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the measles or rubeola virus, a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus.1,2 The virus lives in the mucus of an infected person’s nose and throat.3

Hence, if you have this disease, the virus can be released into the air when you cough or sneeze, and can stay airborne or live on surfaces for up to two hours, contributing to its rapid spread.4

Remember that rubeola (measles) is different from rubella (German measles). Rubella is generally a mild infection that usually lasts for only three days, while rubeola is a more serious disease that can lead to complications.5 Keep on reading to learn the answers to some of the most common questions about measles.

What Does Measles Look Like?

Measles causes flu-like symptoms, which start with a runny nose, hacking cough, fever and red eyes. Two or three days after the start of symptoms, tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may form inside the mouth that can persist for several days, followed by a spotty rash that spreads throughout your body.6,7

The incubation period of the measles virus ranges from seven to 21 days from exposure to onset of fever; the rash usually appears about 14 days after exposure.8

How Dangerous Is This Disease?

Measles can be serious and even fatal in both children and adults. The infection can lead to complications, such as deafness, pneumonia and brain inflammation.9

If a pregnant woman contracts measles, she could miscarry, give birth prematurely, or have an increased risk for a low birth weight baby.10 Globally, this disease continues to be endemic, resulting in more than 140,000 deaths each year.11

Can Measles Affect Adults?

Absolutely. In fact, during the first five months of 2011, 45 percent of measles cases in the U.S. were seen in adults ages 20 years and older. Additionally, the risk of death from the disease is higher for adults and infants as compared to children.12

Can You Get Measles More Than Once?

Fortunately, no. If you had measles in the past, you can’t get it again because your body has already become immune to the virus.13

Is There a Treatment for Measles?

There is currently no way to kill the measles virus; therefore, treatment focuses on supportive care. Plenty of rest, adequate intake of fluids, lowering the fever and alleviating other symptoms can make the disease more tolerable.14 To help reduce the severity of symptoms, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends vitamin A supplementation.15

If you are severely ill or suspect complications of measles, seek medical attention immediately to discuss treatment options with your physician.

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