What is measles (rubeola)?

Measles (rubeola): Overview

Measles, also called rubeola , is caused by a virus. It's spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The virus can travel through the air. This means you can get measles if you're near someone who has it even if that person doesn't cough or sneeze directly on you.

Symptoms may start about 7 to 14 days after you're exposed to measles. Symptoms include a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a cough. The lymph glands in your neck may swell. You also may feel very tired and have diarrhea and red, sore eyes. After these symptoms start to go away, you may get tiny white spots inside your mouth, followed by a rash over your body.

Care at home, such as rest, fluids, and pain relievers, is usually the only treatment you need for measles.

If you've had measles, you can't get it again.


Measles, also called rubeola, is a contagious viral illness. It usually causes a red rash over most of the body.

Other symptoms are a high fever, sneezing, a sore throat, coughing, swollen glands, red and irritated eyes, tiredness, and a loss of appetite. Although measles is much less common today, it still infects people who have not received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine or the measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox (varicella) vaccine (MMRV). For example, teenagers or college students who have not been immunized could get measles while they are in their school settings.

If a person gets measles during pregnancy, there is a greater chance of miscarrying the baby or delivering the baby prematurely. But measles infection does not cause birth defects.

Treatment for measles includes resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking acetaminophen or other nonprescription drugs to relieve symptoms. Most people who have measles recover without complications. But babies, older adults, and people who have impaired immune systems are at greater risk for complications, such as ear infections, strep throat, pneumonia, or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

Measles used to be common in children, but the measles vaccine has drastically reduced the number of cases that occur each year.

What are the symptoms of measles (rubeola)?

Early symptoms of measles are a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a cough. You also may have diarrhea and red, sore eyes. As these symptoms start to go away, you'll get tiny white spots inside your mouth, followed by a rash all over your body.

How is measles (rubeola) treated?

Measles usually gets better with home care. But if you've been exposed and you haven't had the vaccine, you may be able to prevent the infection by getting immunoglobulin (IG) or the measles vaccine. Babies, pregnant people, and people who have impaired immune systems may need to get IG if they're exposed to measles.

What can you do to prevent measles (rubeola)?

Measles can be prevented by a vaccine. It's important to get your child vaccinated because measles can sometimes cause serious problems.

Some parents worry that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. But many studies have been done, and no link has been found between vaccines and ASD.

Measles is one of the most easily spread diseases. Outbreaks can easily occur. For instance, a person from another country may have measles and not know it yet. If that person travels outside their own country, they could spread measles to people who are not immune. Also, if you travel to another country and you are not immune to measles, you may be at risk.

If you don't know whether you're immune to measles and you plan to travel, check with your doctor or local health clinic to see whether you should get the vaccine before you travel.

How is measles (rubeola) diagnosed?

If you think you have measles, call ahead and explain your symptoms before you go to a doctor's office. After you've had an exam, your doctor may order a blood test, a viral culture, or both to see if you have measles.

How can you care for your child when they have measles (rubeola)?

  • Your child should stay at home to avoid contact with people who have never had measles and who have not been immunized. Measles is very contagious. Your child can spread measles to others from 4 days before the rash appears to 4 days after the rash appears.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest to help the body heal.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Try to keep your child from scratching the rash.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.
  • Have your child rest their eyes often. If your child's eyes are sensitive to light, close the window blinds in the room, and limit the amount of time your child watches screens.

What is measles (rubeola)?

Measles is a very contagious (easily spread) infection that causes a rash all over your body. It is also called rubeola. The measles vaccine protects against the illness. The vaccine is part of the MMR and MMRV vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots.

How is measles (rubeola) spread?

Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread when a person who has it coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The virus can travel through the air. This means that you can get measles if you are near someone who has the virus even if they don't cough or sneeze on you.

You can spread the virus to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appeared. The virus is most often spread when people first get sick, before they know they have it.

Measles (rubeola) in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Symptoms may include:
    • Using the belly muscles to breathe.
    • The chest sinking in or the nostrils flaring when your child struggles to breathe.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child is confused.

Be sure to say that your child was diagnosed with measles. Measles is very contagious. The doctor may not want your child to be in contact with other patients. You will be given instructions on what is best for your child.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your child is sensitive to light or feels very sleepy.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child feels better, but their symptoms return.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.