A  A  A   Print
Why Measles Remains a Threat

Why Measles Remains a Threat

Once an almost inevitable childhood illness for an American child, measles (rubeola) has reached an all-time low in this country. But children still need immunization, because measles is still a major threat in other parts of the world. Each year, nearly 200,000 people worldwide die of measles.

In the United States, the cases that do occur are because of imported measles. Many of these cases occur among adults and children returning from visits to foreign countries.

Most U.S. children have been vaccinated, but the vaccine is only 95 to 98 percent effective. That means some children exposed to measles can still get the disease.

The vaccine — usually a combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine — is given at ages12 to 15 months. A booster is given at ages 4 to 6, or at ages 11 to 12 (if not given earlier). The booster helps ensure that most children are protected. 

Measles should not be confused with rubella, which is known as "German measles." Rubella is caused by a different virus that often causes no symptoms. It's also much shorter and milder than measles. However, a woman who gets rubella early in pregnancy can pass it to her unborn child, causing potentially serious complications.

Measles spreads quickly through coughing, sneezing, or talking. Nearly everyone who is exposed to the measles virus will probably develop measles if he or she is not immunized.

Although measles is chiefly known for its red rash, its true danger lies in its complications. The virus can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections. If the virus moves to the brain, it can cause swelling known as encephalitis. Infants face a higher risk for complications than older children.

Most people born before 1957, before the vaccine was introduced, are considered immune. The infection was so widespread then that most people got the disease. Anyone born after 1957 should be vaccinated.

Measles symptoms

Symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after exposure. A person with measles is contagious for up to 4 days before symptoms appear, until 4 days after the rash appears. Symptoms include:

  • Fever, which may become very high when the skin rash appears.

  • Runny nose

  • Pink, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)  

  • Dry cough

  • Diarrhea

  • Tiny white spots on the mouth lining (called Koplik spots)

  • Skin rash of dull red, slightly raised spots (usually appears 4 or 5 days after symptoms start); the rash starts on the face and spreads down the body to the feet

What you can do

  • Make sure your child is immunized.

  • If your child contracts measles, keep him or her home, away from other children, until your doctor gives the OK to return to school.

  • Encourage your child to rest. It's not necessary to stay in bed.

  • Give your child plenty of clear liquids — water and juice are good choices.

  • For fever, you can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Because of the risk of Reye's syndrome, children and teens with a fever should not take aspirin or aspirin-containing products.

  • No matter your age, discuss with your doctor the need for a measles vaccination if you work at an educational institute, a health care setting, or are planning international travel.

Today's Interactive Tools

The third-party content provided in the Health Library of phoebeputney.com is for informational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. If you or your child has or suspect you may have a health problem, please consult your primary care physician. If you or your child may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or other emergency health care provider immediately in the United States or the appropriate health agency of your country. For more information regarding site usage, please visit: Privacy Information, Terms of Use or Disclaimer.

Follow us online:

© 2014 Phoebe Putney Health System  |  417 Third Avenue, Albany, Georgia 31701  |  Telephone 877.312.1167

Phoebe Putney Health System is a network of hospitals, family medicine clinics, rehab facilities, auxiliary services, and medical education training facilities. Founded in 1911,
Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (the flagship hospital) is one of Georgia's largest comprehensive regional medical centers. From the beginning, Phoebe's mission and vision
has been to bring the finest medical talent and technology to the citizens of Southwest Georgia, and to serve all citizens of the community regardless of ability to pay.