4 important questions about measles

Posted by Julie Pace, N.P.
February 16, 2015

MEASLESNews about measles has been ever-present lately. For the most part, that’s due to the outbreak stemming from California. While the United States has averaged a meager 60 measles cases per year for more than a decade, 2014-2015 has seen a major uptick. The highly contagious nature of measles and anti-vaccination movements have led to the problems we’re seeing today.

Q. What is measles?

A. Measles is a childhood viral infection that can almost always be prevented by a vaccine. The infection is very contagious and replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult.

Measles spreads when infected persons cough, sneeze or talk, which produces infected droplets. These droplets are either inhaled by others or live on surfaces for many hours. People with measles are contagious for about eight days — four before a rash appears and four while a rash is present.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. Measles occurs in stages and progresses over a two- to three-week period. Symptoms are different throughout each stage.

Stage one – infection and incubation. The incubation period for measles is 10 to 14 days, during which time you won’t exhibit any symptoms.

Stage two – nonspecific signs and symptoms. Common first signs of measles are a fever, dry cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis (inflamed eyes) that last for two to three days.


Stage three – acute illness and rash. In the third stage, you’ll start to see a rash, which typically begins on your face. Over the next few days, the rash will spread to your arms, torso and then your legs. Accompanying the rash will be a quickly rising fever that may reach more than 105 degrees. Eventually, the fever dips and the rash clears up from bottom to top.

Q. Why is it a big deal?

A. Measles can lead to complications ranging from uncomfortable to life-threatening.

Side effects include:

  • Ear infection
  • Bronchitis, laryngitis or croup
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain that can lead to death)
  • Pregnancy issues
  • Problems with blood clotting as a result of low platelet count

The infection can be deadly in young children. In fact, more than 100,000 people die from measles each year, with most victims being 5 years old or younger.

Q. How do I prevent measles?

A. The single most effective way to avoid measles is to get vaccinated. The rumor that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to autism has been refuted and discredited. The MMR vaccine is safe and necessary.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one dose of the MMR vaccine is 93 percent effective at preventing measles. Receiving two doses is about 97 percent effective.

Contact your health care provider if you have concerns about measles.

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