The Measles – Basic Facts

By: Penfield Children’s Center

Caused by a respiratory infection, the measles (also called rubeola) is highly contagious to unvaccinated children and those with compromised immune systems. Although this infection was common in the past and is not as widespread today, it is still possible to contract the virus. When outbreaks do occur, it is most often the result of a child contracting the virus because he was unvaccinated and spreads the virus to others who have not gotten the vaccine or who cannot receive the vaccine because of medical reasons.

Once a child contracts the measles, there is no cure; the virus must run its course. It is advised that the child drink plenty of liquids and rest as much as possible.

According to the Mayo Clinic, over the course of two to three weeks, the infection will go through these stages:

Infection and incubation period: Within 10-14 days of exposure, the virus incubates or develops inside the child’s body before symptoms appear.

Signs and symptoms develop: Similar to the cold or flu, your child might develop a sore throat, fever, cough and/or conjunctivitis (red eyes). He might also develop Koblick’s spots, small spots inside the mouth with whitish-blue centers. A skin rash comprised of large blotches that blend together will also occur. Your child will breakout in the skin rash first on his face.

Rash spreads: For the next few days, the rash will spread from your child’s face, to his trunk and arms, then to his legs. His fever will also rise, sometimes as high as 105 degrees F. After spreading over the body, the rash will eventually start to go away, first from the face.

Children with the measles are contagious for about eight days – four days before the rash appears on the face – and ends when the rash has been on the body for another four days.

Regardless of the severity of your child’s symptoms, if you suspect your child has been exposed to the measles and is showing early signs of the infection, consult your child’s pediatrician. As with any virus, it is extremely contagious and is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs, releases droplets and the other person inhales these infected droplets. If your child touches a surface where infected droplets have been sprayed and then puts his fingers in his mouth, he can also become infected.

Complications of the measles virus:

If your child contracts the measles virus, he is at risk of developing an ear infection, pneumonia, encephalitis or other opportunistic infection.

Children at highest risk for contracting the measles include infants too young to receive the vaccine and those with weak immune systems. Pregnant women are also considered high risk.


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