Symptoms and Signs of Measles (Rubeola)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/27/2021

Doctor's Notes on Measles (Rubeola)

Measles is a disease that usually causes fever and a rash in children and sometimes in adults. There are two types of measles. The most common one is termed measles, rubeola, red measles, or hard measles. The early phase has symptoms of fever, lethargy, cough, conjunctivitis, runny nose, and loss of appetite. In about 2-4 days, a rash starts on the face, then spreads to the trunk, and then onto the arms and legs. The rash consists of small red bumps or spots that may blend together. This rash may peel off as the patient recovers. Koplik spots (gray spots) may appear inside the mouth. This disease makes patients more vulnerable to pneumonia and occasionally encephalitis.

The second less common type of measles is termed rubella, German measles, or the 3-day measles. It has the same signs and symptoms as the more common type, but the symptoms are much milder and last a shorter time. About 25%-50% of people with rubella infection have no symptoms or signs. Swollen lymph nodes may occur in the back of the neck. Unfortunately, pregnant women who get the disease can pass it to her unborn child, producing birth defects and possible miscarriage or stillbirth.

Both types of measles are caused by viruses. However, each type is caused by a different viral type. The most common form of measles is caused by the rubeola virus while the less common form of measles is caused by the rubella virus. Vaccination with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against both types of measles and in the U.S., and it is required for entry into school.

What Are the Treatments for Measles (Rubeola)?

Although there are no specific treatments for measles, there are some supportive measures to reduce symptoms and decrease the length of infection:

  • Fever reduction (do not use aspirin in children under 18 years of age)
  • Vitamin A (may reduce severity)
  • Antibiotics if the person develops a bacterial coinfection
  • Stay hydrated
  • Humidify air
  • Rest your eyes
  • Post-exposure vaccination within 72 hours in non-vaccinated individuals
  • Immune serum globulins in some people that are immunosuppressed

Your doctor can help design supportive treatments for the illness.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.