Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Measles, or rubeola, is a highly contagious vaccine-preventable viral respiratory disease caused by the virus rubeola. Droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected person transmit the virus, with symptoms (e.g., red rash, fever and runny nose) typically appearing eight to 12 days after exposure. There is no cure, but bed rest and acetaminophen are often recommended to help relieve symptoms. The measles vaccine has made the disease uncommon in the U.S.

In Our Own Words

Also known as rubeola, measles is a viral respiratory disease spread by a virus of the same name. Respiratory droplets carry the virus from infected people, and symptoms occur about 8 to 12 days later. These symptoms can include a runny nose, high fever, a barky cough, bloodshot eyes and a “morbilliform” red-brown rash that spreads from the hairline downward. Measles encephalitis is probably the most dreaded of the complications, which also includes symptoms of ear infections and pneumonia.

Today, the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine that protects against both measles (rubeola) and German measles (rubella) is available and widely used; in the pre-vaccine era, nearly all children contracted measles by the age of 20. Though measles is often viewed as a disease only common in children, individuals of all ages are vulnerable if unvaccinated.

New cases of measles have been associated with parents electing not to immunize their children, as well as transmission at airports from individuals from areas where measles is more prevalent.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • High fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • Red rash
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