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Measles is a highly contagious respiratory infection. It spreads through droplets when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. Most children recover with no lasting effects. But measles can lead to serious infections or even death in some cases. A vaccine is now given to prevent the disease.

Children should be vaccinated for measles with 2 doses: first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. For persons who have not been vaccinated, vaccination up to 3 days after exposure to measles may prevent the disease.

Risk factors

Those most at risk for measles are:

  • Children and adults who never received the measles vaccine.

  • Infants too young to receive the vaccine (under 1 year of age).

  • People with weakened immune systems, even if they’ve been vaccinated against measles.

  • Adults born in 1957 or later who are not known to be immune to measles.

Child sitting at school desk with measles.

When to go to the emergency department (ED)

The first symptoms of measles include a runny nose, cough, and high fever. Two to four days later, red spots appear. The measles rash often starts on the back of the neck, then spreads to the face and rest of the body. Call your child's health care provider right away if you suspect measles. Get emergency care if the child or affected person has:

  • A fever higher than 105°F (40.5°C).

  • Signs of an ear infection.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Confusion, clumsiness or severe headache

What to expect in the ED

  • Your child's health care provider will ask about medical history and perform a physical exam.

  • A sample of fluid may be taken from the nose. This takes only a minute and won’t hurt. The sample is then checked in a lab for the measles virus.

  • Breathing will be assisted, if necessary.


There is no cure for measles. Treatment consists of making the child comfortable. Give your child plenty of fluids. Your child's health care provider may also prescribe a mild pain reliever. An ear or lung infection is likely to be treated with antibiotics. For adults, a measles infection may require hospitalization. Keep your child away from others who may not have been immunized against measles, since it is contagious.


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