Facts on Measles
Measles is best known for causing a fever and rash in childhood, but measles can affect other parts of the body and sometimes occurs in adults. Vaccination has significantly reduced the number of cases in the United States, although isolated outbreaks continue to occur, and measles has been occurring more frequently in recent years due to an increased number of vaccine refusals.
There are two types of measles, each caused by a different virus. Although both produce a rash and fever, they are really different diseases. When most people use the term measles, they are referring to the first condition below.
- The rubeola virus causes "red measles," also known as "hard measles" or just "measles." Although most people recover without problems, rubeola can lead to pneumonia or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
- The rubella virus causes "German measles," also known as "three-day measles." This is usually a milder disease than red measles. However, this virus can cause significant birth defects if an infected pregnant woman passes the virus to her unborn child.
Both the rubeola and rubella viruses are spread through the respiratory route. This means they infect susceptible individuals exposed to an infected person who is coughing and sneezing. In fact, the rubeola virus is one of the most contagious viruses known to man. As a result, it can spread rapidly in a susceptible population. Infected people carry the virus in their respiratory tract before they get sick, so they can spread the disease without being aware of it.
If people are immune to the virus (either through vaccination or by having had measles in the past), they cannot get the disease caused by that virus. For example, someone who had rubeola as a child would not be able to get the disease again. Remember that rubella and rubeola are different viruses. An infection with or vaccination against one of these viruses does not protect against infection with the other.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2016
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Measles: