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Fact Sheet: Measles

What is measles?

Measles is an acute disease characterized by fever and rash. Some patients develop pneumonia, and about 1 case in 2,000 is fatal. It is a highly contagious viral disease capable of producing epidemics. Measles is more common in winter and spring.


Who gets measles?

Although measles is usually considered a childhood disease, it can be contracted at any age. Generally, preschool children, adolescents, young adults and inadequately immunized individuals comprise the majority of measles cases in the United States.


How is measles spread?

Measles is spread by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected people, or, less frequently, by airborne transmission. Measles is one of the most contagious of diseases.


What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles symptoms generally appear in two stages. In the first stage, the individual may have a runny nose, cough and slight fever. The eyes may become reddened and sensitive to light, while the fever consistently rises each day. The second stage begins on the third to seventh day, and consists of a temperature of 103° to 105°F. and a blotchy red rash lasting four to seven days. The rash usually begins on the face and then spreads over the entire body. Little white spots known as “Koplik spots” may also appear on the gums and inside of cheeks.  

How soon do symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually appear in 10 to 12 days, although they may occur as early as 8 or as late as 13 days after exposure.


When and for how long is a person able to spread measles?

An individual is able to transmit measles from four days prior and four days after rash onset.


If I think I have been exposed to measles, what should I do?

If you develop a fever and a rash, call your health provider or the local health department. It is important to avoid exposing people who may coincidentally be present at a hospital or doctor's office; call ahead first to alert the staff so that they can arrange to see you in a place where other patients or employees won’t be exposed.


How common is measles in Oregon?

High vaccination rates have interrupted the endemic transmission of measles in the United States. In 2012, >94% of school-age children had received two doses of measles-containing vaccine. Despite repeated introduction of measles into Oregon, we have seen no more than 14 cases in any given year since 1991. As long as vaccination rates remain high, the risk to Oregonians is low.

Does past infection make a person immune?

Yes. Permanent immunity is acquired after contracting the disease.


What is the treatment for measles?

There is no specific treatment for measles.


What are the complications associated with measles?

Pneumonia occurs in up to 6 percent of reported cases and accounts for 60 percent of deaths attributed to measles. Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) may also occur. Other complications include middle ear infection and convulsions. Measles is more severe in infants and adults.


How can measles be prevented?

Anyone born on or after January 1, 1957, who does not have a history of physician-diagnosed measles or antibodies proving that they are immune to measles immunity, should receive two doses of MMR vaccine for maximum protection. In children, the first dose should be given at 12 to 15 months of age. The second dose should be given at four to 6 years of age (school entry). MMR vaccine is recommended for all measles vaccine doses to maximize protection against  mumps and rubella as well as measles. Measles immunization is required of all children enrolled in child care, preschool and schools programs. Since August 1, 1990, college students have also been required to demonstrate immunity against measles.

Issued by: The Oregon Health Authority
Adopted from: The New York State Department of Health
Date: December 2012 Return to top