Measles (Rubeola)

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Measles (Rubeola)

Topic Overview

What is measles?

Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) infection that causes a rash all over your body. It is also called rubeola or red measles.

The measles vaccine protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. This is why measles is rare in Canada and the U.S.

What causes measles?

Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The measles virus can travel through the air. This means that you can get measles if you are near someone who has the virus even if that person doesn't cough or sneeze directly on you.

You can spread the virus to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appeared. The virus is most often spread when people first get sick, before they know they have it.

If you have had measles, you can't get it again. Most people born before 1957 have had measles.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms of measles are like a bad cold—a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a hacking cough. The lymph nodes in your neck may swell. You also may feel very tired and have diarrhea and red, sore eyes. As these symptoms start to go away, you will get red spots inside your mouth, followed by a rash all over your body.

When adults get measles, they usually feel worse than children who get it.

It usually takes 8 to 12 days to get symptoms after you have been around someone who has measles. This is called the incubation period.

How is measles diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. If your doctor suspects that you have measles, he or she may do a blood test and/or viral culture.

If you think you have measles, call your doctor so he or she can report the illness to the local health unit.

How is it treated?

Measles usually gets better with home care. Take medicines to lower your fever. Also, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Stay away from other people as much as you can so that you don't spread the disease. If your child has measles, keep him or her out of school until at least 4 days after the rash first appeared. Keep your child out longer if he or she is not feeling well. Your doctor may suggest vitamin A supplements if your child has measles.

Most people get better within 2 weeks. But measles can sometimes cause dangerous problems, such as lung infection (pneumonia) or brain swelling (encephalitis). In rare cases, it can even cause seizures or meningitis.

If you have been exposed to measles and you have not had the vaccine, you may be able to prevent the infection by getting a shot of immunoglobulin (IG) or the measles vaccine as soon as possible. Babies who are younger than 12 months, pregnant women, and people who have impaired immune systems that can't fight infection may need to get IG if they are exposed to measles.

Why is prevention important?

Getting your child vaccinated is important, because measles can sometimes cause serious problems.

False claims in the news have made some parents concerned about a link between autism and vaccines. But studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.1

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. Outbreaks can easily occur. For instance, a person from another country may have measles and not know it yet. If that person travels outside his or her own country, he or she could spread measles to people who are not immune. Also, if you travel to another country and you are not immune to measles, you may be at risk.

If you don't know whether you're immune to measles and you plan to travel, check with your doctor or travel health clinic to see whether you should get the vaccine before you travel.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Boulevard
Elk Grove Village, IL  60007-1098
Phone: (847) 434-4000
Fax: (847) 434-8000
Email: kidsdocs@aap.org
Web Address: www.aap.org
 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers a variety of educational materials, such as links to publications about parenting and general growth and development. Immunization information, safety and prevention tips, AAP guidelines for various conditions, and links to other organizations are also available.


Canadian Immunization Awareness Program
Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion (CCIAP)
Web Address: www.immunize.cpha.ca/en/default.aspx
 

The Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion (CCIAP) is a coalition of national organizations committed to promotion and education on immunization. Its Web site includes information on immunizations, diseases, and vaccines for adults and children.


Canadian Paediatric Society
2305 Saint Laurent Boulevard
Ottawa, ON  K1G 4J8
Phone: (613) 526-9397
Fax: (613) 526-3332
Email: info@cps.ca
Web Address: www.cps.ca
 

The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) promotes quality health care for Canadian children and establishes guidelines for paediatric care. The organization offers educational materials on a variety of topics, including information on immunizations, pregnancy, safety issues, and teen health.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Vaccines and Immunizations
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: www.cdc.gov/vaccines
 

This CDC Web site has information about vaccines and the diseases that can be prevented by immunization. The Web site includes the recommended immunization schedules for children, teens, and adults. There is also information about vaccine side effects and safety, school and state requirements, and immunization records. Interactive schedules are also available.


Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)
130 Colonnade Road
A.L. 6501H
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0K9
Phone: Telephone numbers for PHAC vary by region. For your regional number, go to the listing on the PHAC website at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/contac-eng.php.
Web Address: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/index-eng.php
 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (formerly the Population and Public Health Branch of Health Canada) is primarily responsible for policies, programs, and systems relating to disease prevention, health promotion, disease surveillance, community action, and disease control.


References

Citations

  1. Peacock G, Yeargin-Allsopp M (2009). Autism spectrum disorders: Prevalence and vaccines. Pediatric Annals, 38(1): 22–25.

Other Works Consulted

  • Cherry JD (2009). Measles virus. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2427–2451. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Elliman D, et al. (2009). Measles, mumps, and rubella: Prevention, search date July 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  • Gershon A (2008). Measles (rubeola). In AS Fauci et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed., pp. 1214–1217. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Gershon AA (2010). Measles virus (rubeola). In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2229–2236. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
  • Kabra SK, et al. (2008). Antibiotics for preventing complications in children with measles. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).
  • Levin MJ, Weinberg A (2011). Measles (rubeola) section of Infections: Viral and rickettsial. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 1138–1140. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Mason WH (2007). Measles. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., pp. 1331–1337. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) (2010). Statement on measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 36(ACS-9): 1–22. Also available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/10vol36/acs-9/index-eng.php.
  • Perry RT, Orenstein WA (2006). Measles. In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 786–790. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Last Revised April 25, 2011

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