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Last Updated: Nov 01, 2019
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Measles - Symptom, Treatment And Causes

What is Measles? What are the symptoms of measles? What is the mode of transmission for measles? How is measles spread? What is the incubation period for measles? Causes and Risk factors Diagnosing and Treating Measles What are the side effects of measles? Complications surrounding Measles What type of precautions for measles?

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly communicable illness caused by morbillivirus. This virus replicates in the nose or pharynx of an infected child or adult. If an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, the droplets spread in the air and other people may inhale them. The infected droplets may also drop onto surfaces where they remain active and contagious for hours. People get infected by touching these surfaces and then putting the infected fingers in their mouth, nose or rubbing their eyes following contact with the surfaces.

Anyone who hasn’t been immunised or hasn’t had the infection in the past can get the infection. It is found that the infection clears in around seven to ten days. Once you have had measles, your body develops resistance and so you don’t really get re-infected. But, it may at times cause serious complications like encephalitis and pneumonia.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles starts with cold-like symptoms that starts around 10 days after getting infected. This is followed by a rash about a couple of days later. In the majority of patients, the ailment lasts for about seven to nine days.

The initial Symptoms are:

  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Red and sore eyes that are sensitive to light
  • High grade fever
  • Small greyish-white spots in the mouth
  • Aches and pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness, irritability and generalised malaise

After few days you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Spots in the mouth: Some people develop small greyish-white spots in the mouth a day or two before developing the typical rash. Not everyone gets these spots but if they do develop in addition to other symptoms, they are more diagnostic of the infection. These spots may last for a couple of days before disappearing.
  • Measles rash: These rashes appear in 2 to 3 days after the infection and go away in a week. Measles Rash occurs as flat red-brown spots which can join together to form larger blotchy patches. It generally appears on the head and neck before spreading out to the rest of the body. Itching may be felt by some people. Rash is rare if the person has been immunised. Rashes that appear in measles look similar to roseola or rubella and slapped cheek syndrome.

What is the mode of transmission for measles?

Measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing or sneezing. This is because the virus lives in the mucosae of nose and throat. The virus lives for about 2 hours in the atmosphere where an infected patient has sneezed or coughed.

If anyone else inhale the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then they can also get infected from the virus. Measles is contagious and 90% of the people who are close to an infected individual and not immune to the virus can get infected. Measles is a human infection and is not spread by any animal species.

How is measles spread?

Measles is a highly contagious illness and is caused by morbillivirus. The virus replicates in the nose or pharynx of the patient and spreads through coughing or sneezing by an infected person. This disease occurs among poorly nourished children and adults who have a nutritional deficiency of vitamin A. Women infected with measles while pregnant may also develop complications and may result in stillbirth or miscarriage or even preterm birth. People who develop measles once are usually immune for the rest of their lives.

What is the incubation period for measles?

Around 90% of susceptible individuals who come in contact with someone with the virus, develop the infection. The virus remains active on a surface for about 2 hours where an infected patient has sneezed or coughed. Measles remain active for at least 4 days before the typical rash appears and stay contagious for the next few days.

When the virus enters the system, replication of virus takes place in the lungs, throat and lymphatic system. The virus also multiplies in the eyes, central nervous system, urinary tract and blood vessels. The virus stays for about 1 to 3 weeks in the system after the initial infection.

Causes and Risk factors

The measles virus is able to live on the surface for several hours, causing the infected particles to remain in the air and as such any person within its vicinity may get infected. Sharing utensils like spoons, towels, brush etc. with an infected person increases the risk of infection. Studies showed that measles was the primary cause for death among children worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that most of the victims in its reports were children under the age of 5. The disease is found to mostly occur in unvaccinated children.

Some parents have a wrong notion that vaccination can lead to certain side effects in their children. It is not entirely true. Only in the rarest of cases the vaccine has been found to cause deafness, brain damage, coma, deafness and autistic characteristics.

Children who lack Vitamin A in their diet are at an increased risk of measles.

Diagnosing and Treating Measles

An experienced doctor would be able to tell the case by examining rashes on your skin and checking for characteristic symptoms of the disease such as whitish spots in and around the mouth, cough and sore throat. A blood test may be conducted for further affirmation. As such, there is no prescription medication to treat measles. The symptoms of the virus appear within two or three weeks. The doctor may prescribe medications and supplements to ease the symptoms and help your immune system.

What are the side effects of measles?

Common Side Effects:

  • diarrhea and vomiting leading to dehydration
  • conjunctivitis
  • middle ear infection (otitis media) which can cause earache
  • laryngitis
  • bronchitis, croup and pneumonia
  • febrile seizures(fits caused by fever)

Uncommon Side Effects:

  • Hepatitis
  • squint if the virus affects the muscles and nerves of the eyes
  • meningitis and encephalitis

Rare Side Effects:

  • optic neuritis(infection of the optic nerve) leading to vision loss
  • heart and nervous system problems
  • subacute sclerosing panencephalitis(SSPE),a fatal brain complication which occurs years after the measles infection(occurs in 1 in 25,000 cases)

Measles in pregnancy: If you are not previously exposed or immunised and get pregnant, there is a risk of:

  • miscarriage or stillbirth
  • premature delivery
  • low birth weight

Measles in children: A child with measles can develop a bacterial infection and may have the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • sharp chest pain which may worsen with every breath
  • coughing up blood
  • drowsiness
  • confusion
  • convulsions

Complications surrounding Measles

  • Severe complications:

    Some people suffer from severe complications like pneumonia & encephalitis and they may even die because of these complications. Out of these, pneumonia has been the causative factor for death in about 1 out of every 20 children. Also, measles causes encephalitis in about 1 out of 100 patients which further cause convulsions, deaf ear and intellectual disability.

  • Long term complications:

    Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare ailment of the central nervous system that can occur due to measles infection of the brain. It occurs about 7 years after measles infected the person. Approximately five to ten cases per million are reported for Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis.

What type of precautions for measles?

These are the precautions for measles that must be exercised:


Measles infection can be prevented by taking the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella). If the MMR vaccine is not appropriate, human normal immunoglobulin(HNIG) can be used.

Routine Vaccine-One dose is given when the child is 12 to 13 months old. A second dose is given when the child is 3 years old. Both adults and children can be vaccinated at anytime if they have not been fully vaccinated before. If you are not sure whether you have been vaccinated or not before, getting immunised again will do no harm.

A dose of the MMR vaccine can also be given to anyone over the age of 6 months if they are at risk of getting infected as in:

  • Case of outbreak of measles in your local area
  • Close contact with an infected individual
  • Travelling to an area where the infection is widespread.


This is basically a mixture of antibodies that have the ability to give short-term but immediate protection from measles. It is recommended to:

  • Babies less than 6 months of age.
  • Pregnant women who are either not immunised or not exposed to the virus.
  • Susceptible individuals like those with HIV or Leukemia.

3. Stop the spread of the virus:

This can be achieved by doing the following:

  • Stop attending school or work if you are exposed to the virus
  • Avoid getting in contact with patients who have this infection

Popular Questions & Answers

Hi Sir, I have many measles on my hand only. What should I do please tell any home treatment.

C.S.C, D.C.H, M.B.B.S
General Physician, Alappuzha
If you have measles exactly, it does not need any special medication and mere fever drug will be enough. You can take calpol tablet and drink a lot of water and get rest.

I am a student, 19 years young and currently having measles. The past two days, I a suffered from extreme coldness then suddenly I had flu and then noticed red spots on y face and body. I was diagnosed with German measles when I was a kid. Can someone get measles after experiencing German measles?

General Physician, Panchkula
Yes take only paracetamol 500 twice or thrice a day lot of liquid like soup juice no alcohol. Yes a person can get measles after German measles. Measles cures in 7 10 days unless some other complications.
2 people found this helpful

How long can I delay my daughter's vaccination for measles she is going to be 9 months on the 19th June? What should I be aware of, if I can and I do? And Most of all, Should I delay?

Diploma In Child Health (DCH), MBBS
Pediatrician, Gurgaon
Better not to be delayed, mmr is to be given at this age. Because measles is common in this age so better to go timely.
1 person found this helpful

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