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What Is Measles? Common Measles Questions Answered

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Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is a 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), which is a mild infection that usually lasts for only three days.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 with blue or white dots inside them (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

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.9

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.10 One example of this is that 95 to 98 percent of people who were born before 1957, before the first measles vaccine was licensed, have a natural immunity to the disease because they have lived through years of epidemic measles.11 According to Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC):

“Americans born before 1957 have naturally acquired immunity to measles and we passed antibodies on to our babies when they were born to protect them from measles during the first year of life. Because naturally acquired measles antibodies are different from vaccine antibodies, young vaccinated Moms today cannot give longer lasting naturally acquired measles antibodies to their newborns. Things have definitely changed in the past 60 years.”12

Will Getting Vaccinated Protect You Against Measles?

The measles vaccine does not create lifelong immunity, and in fact only gives you temporary artificial immunity. A study suggested that vaccine-acquired immunity to measles only lasts from 15 to 20 years — and that’s even with good response to vaccination.13,14

Sometimes, vaccines actually fail to confer any immunity in susceptible persons. Case in point: In 2014, 644 measles cases were reported in America, even though 95 percent of children who entered kindergarten, and 92 percent of school children ages 13 to 17 years, received two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.15,16,17 It also is a fact that vaccine failure in fully vaccinated populations has been recognized by health officials for decades.18,19,20

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.21 To help reduce the severity of symptoms, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends vitamin A supplementation.22

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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Introduction: Measles

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