Evidence seems to indicate measles first appeared sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries when the measles virus separated from the rinderpest virus (a sort of measles that affected cattle that has been eliminated through vaccination). Is believed to have occurred in the Middle East due to the close proximity and large amounts of time cattle herders spent with their cattle.
Measles is highly infectious and measles disease likely spread as infected people came to trade in population centers. The virus spread rapidly, and some of the first accounts of it in the Americas were reported in the 1600s.
What Are Symptoms of Measles?
The initial symptoms of measles include:
- Fever up to 104oF (40oC)
- Feeling sick, like with a cold
- Loss of appetite
- Spots in the mouth that may look like grains of salt
After the early symptoms of measles, other symptoms may include:
- Red, watery eyes
- Eyes sensitivity to bright light
- Red rash that starts on the face and spreads to the body
- The spots in the rash can form red patches
- People usually start feeling better about 2 days after the rash starts
- After 3 or 4 days, the rash begins to turn brown and go away
- Skin may peel or flake off, like after a sunburn
- Cough may linger for 1 or 2 weeks after the rash goes away
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- Breathing problems
What Causes Measles?
Measles is caused by the measles virus. It is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person.
Risk factors for contracting measles include:
- Children too young to get a measles vaccine
- People who never had a measles vaccine
- People who did not get a second measles vaccine
- People who got a vaccine shot that did not work well
- Travel to countries where the measles vaccine is not common, or being around people from these countries
- Places where the vaccine might be easy to get, but a lot of people choose not to get the vaccine
- Certain parts of the United States have had an increase in measles cases due to vaccine refusal
How Is Measles Diagnosed?
- Measles is usually diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination.
- Blood tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis but may not be needed.
What Is the Treatment for Measles?
There is no specific treatment for measles. Home remedies to relieve symptoms include:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Pain relievers and fever-reducers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever and aches
- Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 due to the risk of a serious problem called Reye syndrome
- Antibiotics to treat ear or eye infections or pneumonia that can develop
- Vitamin A
- A doctor may give vitamin A to a child who has measles if the child needs to be treated in the hospital, or has another health condition besides measles
What Are Complications of Measles?
Complications of measles include:
- Brain swelling (encephalitis)
- Respiratory infections such as pneumonia
- Death, in rare cases
People with a higher risk of serious problems and complications from measles include:
How Do You Prevent Measles?
Two doses of the MMR vaccine, given as a shot, are needed to protect against measles.
All children should get the first MMR vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old and a second shot when they are 4 to 6 years old. The second shot should be given before the child starts school.
Some older children and adults may need the MMR vaccine, such as:
- Hospital or health care workers
- Students who don't have written proof of two shots
- People traveling outside the United States who don't have written proof of one shot
- People who got a measles shot before 1968
- In the past, some of the measles vaccines did not work well
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