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Measles (Rubeola)

What are measles?

Measles is a disease caused by the measles virus. Symptoms of measles include:

  • Blotchy red rash starting on the face and spreading downward over the entire body in 3 days
  • 3 or 4 days of red eyes, cough, runny nose and fever before the rash begins
  • White specks on the lining of the mouth (Koplik's spots)

Your healthcare provider needs to see your child to confirm that he or she has measles.

If your child has measles, it means he or she was exposed to another child with measles 10 to 12 days earlier.

How long will it last?

Measles can be a miserable illness. The rash usually lasts 7 days. Your child will usually begin to feel a lot better by the fourth day of the rash. Ear and eye infections are common complications.

How can I take care of my child?

  1. Treatment
    • Fever: Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) in the usual dosage for your child's age.
    • Cough: Use corn syrup for children less than 1 year old, honey for children 1 to 4 years old, or cough drops for children over 6 years old. Also, use a humidifier. Medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DM) are cough-suppressants. According to the FDA, you should not give these medicines to children less than 4 years of age. Coughing helps protect the lungs by clearing out germs. If the coughing lasts for more than a couple of days, check with your child's healthcare provider.
    • Red eyes: Wipe your child's eyes frequently with a clean, wet cotton ball. The eyes are usually sensitive to bright light, so your child probably won't want to go outside for several days unless he wears sunglasses.
    • Rash: The rash requires no treatment.
  2. Contagiousness

    The disease is no longer contagious after the rash is gone. This usually takes 7 days.

  3. Measles exposure

    Any child or adult who has been exposed to your child and who has not had measles or the measles vaccine should call his healthcare provider. If given early, a measles vaccine is often protective.

Can measles be prevented?

Measles can be prevented with 2 doses of vaccine. In fact, the vaccine has been so effective that measles is now very rare in the United States. Measles is spread so easily, however, that it would come back quickly if the vaccine was not given to the majority of children.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call IMMEDIATELY if:

  • Breathing becomes labored AND no better after you clear the nose.
  • Your child becomes confused or difficult to awaken.
  • Your child develops a severe headache.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.

Call within 24 hours if:

  • Your child develops an earache.
  • The eyes develop a yellow discharge.
  • Your child develops sinus pain or pressure.
  • The fever is still present on the fourth day of the rash.
  • Fever returns after the temperature has been normal for more than 24 hours.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-08-13
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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