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Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that can spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. The disease is also called rubeola is easily spread from person to person. Measles causes fever, runny nose, cough, and a rash all over the body. The rash usually begins on a person’s face and spreads down to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may rise to more than 104° Fahrenheit.


Signs and symptoms of measles usually appear about 7 to 14 days after a person is infected. Measles usually begins with:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes

Two or three days after signs and symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth.
Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face along the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. When the rash begins, a fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.

measles infographic


Measles is a very contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat of an infected person. The main way that measles spreads is by coughing or sneezing. Measles virus can also live on surfaces and in the air where an infected person coughed or sneezed for up to two hours. Up to 9 out of every 10 people close to a person with measles who are not immune will also become infected.

People at Higher Risk

Measles can be serious in all age groups. Certain people are more likely to suffer from measles complications including:

  • Children younger than 5 years of age
  • Adults older than 20 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weak immune systems

Ear infections and diarrhea are common complications from measles. Serious complications include pneumonia and encephalitis and may require hospitalization. Death from measles can occur.

measles can be dangerous.

Measles Vaccination

Measles can be prevented with MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective. Some people who get two doses of MMR vaccine may still get measles if they are exposed to the virus, however the disease is usually milder and they are less likely to spread the disease to others. Vaccination recommendations are:

  • Children: All children should receive two doses of MMR. The first dose should be given at 12 through 15 months of age and the second at 4 through 6 years of age. Children who are 6 through 11 months of age who will be traveling internationally should receive 1 dose of MMR vaccine.
  • Adults: All adults should have proof of immunity to measles. For adults with no evidence of immunity to measles, 1 dose of MMR vaccine is recommended, unless the adult is in a high risk group (international travelers, health care workers, and college students), in which case 2 doses of MMR vaccine are recommended. Women are advised to not receive any live virus vaccine during pregnancy, including MMR.


Measles cases in the US originate from international travel. The best way to protect yourself from getting measles is by getting vaccinated.

  • Before international travel: Make sure you're protected against measles
    • Plan to be fully vaccinated at least 2 weeks before you depart
    • If your trip is less than 2 weeks away and you're not protected against measles, you should still get a dose of MMR vaccine
  • After international travel: Watch for measles
    • Monitor for symptoms (fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, rash)
    • Call a healthcare provider immediately if you think you or your child have been exposed to measles

    Information for Health Care Professionals