Measles (rubeola) is a highly contagious viral infection—so contagious that 90% of people exposed to it, who are not immune, will develop the disease. Since vaccinations were introduced in 1963, measles has become rare in developed countries, including the United States. However, there are still an estimated 30 million cases of measles worldwide each year, resulting in 888,000 deaths.

Signs and Symptoms

Measles is associated with the following signs and symptoms:

What Causes It?

Measles is caused by a virus (paramyxovirus) that is spread through the air or by contact with infectious droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat. The disease is so contagious that it's possible to contract it by merely being in the same room as an infected person. Most people get measles because they were never immunized. Once someone has had measles, that person is immunized for life.

Who's Most At Risk?

People with the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for developing measles:

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Anyone with a fever and unexplained rash should see a healthcare provider. He or she will do a physical examination, checking for Koplik's spots or the rash that usually appears several days after the spots have disappeared. Due to the success of immunizations, most young providers have never seen a case of measles. To help confirm the diagnosis, they will frequently order a blood test to detect the presence of antibodies against the measles virus. They may also use other blood tests to help diagnose a bacterial infection that may develop in addition to the original viral infection.

Treatment Options


Vaccination is the key to preventing measles. Since the 1980s, the live, weakened measles vaccine, available as the combination vaccine of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), is administered in two doses—one at age 12 to 15 months and the second at age 5 to 12 years. Of those who receive the vaccine, greater than 95% have lifelong immunity. Note: People allergic to eggs (the vaccine virus is grown in chick embryos), and those allergic to neomycin (a type of antibiotic frequently found in topical preparations for cuts and burns) should consult with their healthcare provider before receiving the vaccine.

Treatment Plan

Rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and treatment to relieve symptoms are adequate if there are no complications.

Drug Therapies

The following medications may be used in the management of measles:

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Nutrition People who are deficient in vitamin A are more likely to get infections, including measles, and their cases are more likely to be severe, even fatal. In areas of the world where vitamin A deficiency is widespread or where at least 1% of those with measles die, experts (including the World Health Organization) recommend giving high doses of vitamin A supplements to children with the infection.

Flavonoids, plant compounds with potent biologic activity, are believed to help fight viruses. Of those tested in vitro (in a lab), the following has demonstrated slight benefit against measles: In addition: Thirty out of 142 extracts of traditional herbal remedies studied in vitro (in test tubes) showed antimeasles activity. The most active included: Test tube studies do not necessarily translate to effectiveness or safety in people; more research is needed to know the value of these herbs in clinical use.

There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for measles based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

Measles is most often an uncomplicated childhood illness. However, infants and adults, especially those who are malnourished or whose immune system is weak, may develop complications that involve the respiratory system, central nervous system, or digestive system, in which case hospitalization is required. A small percentage of people who contract measles will die as a result. The measles mortality rate is 0.3% in industrialized countries, and 1% to 10% in developing countries.

Measles in a pregnant woman can result in premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, or low-birth-weight babies. Infants of mothers with active measles should be given immune globulin at birth. Pregnant women should not be vaccinated.


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