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Measles: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

measles symptoms, causes and treatment

Measles, a highly contagious viral infection, continues to be a significant public health concern globally. Despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, outbreaks still occur due to gaps in immunization coverage and vaccine hesitancy. 

Understanding the basics of measles, its symptoms, transmission, and the importance of vaccination is crucial for combating this preventable disease and protecting vulnerable populations.

What is Measles?

Measles (rubeola) is a highly contagious viral disease causing fever and rash, transmitted through airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing. No specific treatment exists; the virus must run its course and vaccination provides the best defense against it. Though less common due to vaccination, measles outbreaks persist due to declining immunization rates. Measles (or rubeola) differs from German measles (rubella).

What are the Symptoms of Measles?

Symptoms typically emerge approximately eight to 12 days following exposure to someone with measles, although there are instances where symptoms may appear as late as 21 days post-exposure.

The primary symptoms of measles often consist of:

  • High fever
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarse or barking cough
  • Red or inflamed eyes
  • Runny nose

Several days after these initial symptoms manifest, a distinctive red, blotchy rash develops, starting on the face and then spreading to other parts of the body. This rash typically persists for about seven to 10 days.

Additional symptoms of measles may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Presence of white spots in the mouth
  • Muscle pain
  • Sensitivity to light

What are the Causes of Measles?

Measles is caused by a contagious virus (morbillivirus) spread through the air by breathing, coughing, sneezing, or talking. Airborne particles can infect others and linger up to two hours in a room, settling on surfaces for further transmission.

Measles can be transmitted through:

  • Sharing food or beverages with an infected individual.
  • Kissing someone who is infected.
  • Hugging, holding hands, or shaking hands with an infected person.
  • Contacting your mouth, nose, or eyes after coming into contact with a virus-contaminated surface.
  • Transmission from pregnant individuals to their babies can occur during pregnancy, delivery, or through nursing.

What are the Complications of Measles?

Measles can lead to various serious complications, especially affecting certain groups more than others, like:

  • Babies and young children
  • Pregnant individuals
  • Adults aged 20 and above
  • Those with weakened immune systems

Potential complications include:

  • Digestive issues like diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Pregnancy-related problems such as low birth weight or premature birth if measles occurs during pregnancy

How is Measles Diagnosed?

Typically, healthcare providers can diagnose measles effectively through a comprehensive patient history, physical examination, and evaluation of the characteristic rash. Occasionally, they might request laboratory tests to detect the virus in samples obtained from:

  • Blood.
  • Nasal and throat secretions.
  • Urine.

What is the Treatment for Measles?

In contrast to bacterial infections, antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections. Typically, viral infections, including measles, resolve on their own within about three weeks. Therefore, treatment for measles focuses on alleviating symptoms and reducing the risk of complications.

If you have been exposed to the measles virus, healthcare providers may take proactive measures even before symptoms appear, such as:

  • Administering a measles vaccine within 72 hours of exposure.
  • Prescribing immunoglobulin, a type of immune protein, within 6 days of exposure.

For managing acute symptoms like cough and fever, they may recommend:

  • Using over-the-counter medications.
  • Resting to support your immune system.
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Using a humidifier to relieve sore throats and coughs.
  • Incorporating vitamin A supplements into your daily routine.

How can you Prevent Measles?

To reduce the chance of getting measles and its complications, consider the following steps:


MMR Vaccine: Administered in two doses and it is highly effective (offers 97% protection)

  • Includes protection against measles, mumps, and rubella.
  • The MMRV vaccine also protects against chickenpox.

Timing for Vaccination:

  • First dose at 12 months (or earlier for international travellers ).
  • Between the ages of 4 and 6 is the second dosage.
  • Adults can get vaccinated at any age if never immunized.

Who Should Avoid Vaccination:

  • Those with previous severe reactions.
  • Pregnant individuals.
  • Immunocompromised persons (e.g., HIV, cancer treatment).

Side Effects:

  • Typically mild (e.g., fever, rash).
  • Rarely associated with low platelet count or seizures.

Other Prevention Methods

Herd Immunity: Critical to have ~96% population vaccinated to prevent measles spread.

Hand Hygiene: Wash hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face.

Avoid sharing personal items and minimize contact with sick individuals. 

Steps to Take if you Have Measles

Isolate Yourself:

  • Stay home until 4 days after the rash disappears.
  • Avoid contact with vulnerable groups (e.g., infants, immunocompromised).

Practice Respiratory Etiquette:

  • Cover nose/mouth when coughing/sneezing.
  • Dispose of tissues promptly.

Maintain Hygiene:

  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Disinfect surfaces regularly.

Vaccination not only protects you but also contributes to community health by preventing the spread of measles.


Measles remains a serious public health concern despite available vaccines. Continued efforts in vaccination, education, and surveillance are crucial to prevent outbreaks and protect vulnerable populations from this highly contagious disease. It is always advisable to seek medical help from a general physician. Timely care and help can ensure an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of your condition. 

At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult a general physician, reach out to us, or book a direct appointment with paediatrics at the CK Birla Hospital. 

FAQs About Measles

Is Measles a Serious Illness?

Measles is a serious illness that can lead to complications such as pneumonia, encephalitis, and death, especially in young children and those with weakened immune systems.

Can Adults get Measles?

Yes, adults can get measles if they are not immune either through vaccination or previous infection. It is more severe in adults compared to children and can lead to complications.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Measles?

The long-term effects of measles can include brain damage (encephalitis), hearing loss, and an increased susceptibility to other infections due to weakening of the immune system.

How Effective is the Measles Vaccine?

The measles vaccine is highly effective, providing about 97% protection after two shots. It significantly reduces the risk of contracting measles and also helps prevent severe complications and transmission of the virus.

Can you Get Measles if you’ve Been Vaccinated?

It’s rare but possible to get measles after vaccination. The measles vaccine is very effective, but a small percentage of vaccinated individuals may still contract the disease if exposed to the virus.

After Coming into Contact with a Measles Carrier, What Should I Do?

If you’ve been exposed to someone with measles and are not immune or vaccinated, contact your healthcare provider immediately. They can advise on potential preventive measures or post-exposure vaccination.


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