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Measles: What you need to know

Last Modified: March 10, 2023

Diseases & Disorders, Family Medicine

Robyn Schmucker, MD, PPG – Pediatric Infectious Diseases explains why it’s so important to know the warning signs of measles and how you can protect your family.


People often think of measles presenting with that characteristic rash, but in truth, measles start with upper respiratory symptoms. We call them the “3 Cs” – cough, coryza (runny nose) and conjunctivitis (red eyes). After these symptoms begin, within approximately 2-3 days patients will experience a high fever, 104 or 105 degrees.  

Then we see the characteristic rash, typically within 5 days of the onset of the cough and upper respiratory symptoms. The rash starts around the hair line and spreads down.


A lot of kids, especially under the age of 5 have complications associated with measles. This can include pneumonia or acute encephalitis, which means an infection in the brain. We see acute encephalitis in about 1/1000 cases, so it’s pretty frequent with measles. Children with encephalitis can die from the condition or, if they do recover, they can suffer developmental delays and brain damage.


Measles is one of the most contagious diseases we know of, mostly because of its makeup. It can remain in rooms for up to 2 hours after the infected person leaves. Up to 90 percent of non-immune people will become infected if exposed.

It wasn’t until 1989 that physicians began recommending that kids get two measles vaccines to protect them against the virus. If you were born after 1991, it’s important to check and make sure you are immune. Any child born after 1991 should have received the two vaccines (MMR) and be immune.


There is no great treatment for measles since it is a virus. We can only provide supportive care. If a child is dehydrated, we can admit them to the hospital for IV fluids. If they have a vitamin A deficiency they are more prone to infections, so we can give them a supplement during the infection. But aside from that, there is no treatment for measles.  

We do have populations that are unimmunized, so it’s important to be aware of the risks. Those who are infected are contagious often before symptoms present. If you think you or your child has been exposed to measles, contact your doctor right away and don’t go out in public unless you know you are immune.


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