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Measles – symptoms, causes, risk factors and complications

Measles is a childhood infection which is caused by a virus. It is common condition. They can almost always prevent with a vaccine. Red and blotchy skin rash, fever, sore throat, inflamed eyes; runny nose and cough are signs and symptoms of measles. This condition is also called rubeola. It can be serious and even fatal for small children. The death rates have been falling all around the world because more children receive the measles vaccine. But this condition still kills more than 100.000 people per year and most are under the age of five. [1] As a result of the high vaccination rates, this condition has not widespread in the United States of America for more than a decade. Nowadays, in the United States of America the average cases of measles are about 60 a year and most cases originate outside the country.

Symptoms of measles

The signs and symptoms of measles appear 10 – 14 days after the exposure to the virus. The signs and symptoms typically are including:

  • A skin rash made up of large, flat botches that often flow into one another
  • Tiny white spots with bluish – white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek – this is also known as Koplik’s spots
  • Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Fever

This infection happens in sequential stages over a period of 2 – 3 weeks.

  • Infection and incubation: For the first ten to fourteen days after you are infected, this measles virus incubate. During this time you have no signs or symptoms.
  • Nonspecific signs and symptoms: This condition typically begins with a mild to moderate fever which is often accompanied by sore throat, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), runny nose or a persistent cough. This relatively mild illness may last 2 or 3 days.
  • Acute illness and rash: This rash consists of small red spots and some of them are slightly raised. Bumps and spots in tight clusters give the skin a splotchy red appearance. The face breaks out first, particularly behind your ears and along the hairline.

Over the next few days, this rash spread down the trunk and arms, then over the thighs, feet and lower legs. At the same time, the fever rises sharply and often it is high 40 – 41 C (104 – 105.8 F). The measles rash will gradually recede and it is fading first from the face and it last from the thighs and feet.

  • Communicable period: In this period the person who has the measles can spread the virus to other people for about 8 days, starting 4 days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been present for 4 days.

If you think that you or your doctor may have been exposed to measles or if you or your child has a rash resembling measles, then you should call your doctor. You should review your family’s immunization records with your doctor, especially before your child start the elementary school or before you go to college or have international travel.

measles causes symptomsCauses of measles

The cause for this condition is the virus which replicates in the nose and throat of an infected adult or child. When someone who has measles talks, sneezes or coughs, then the infected droplets spray into the air, where other people who are not infected can inhale them. These infected droplets can also land on a surface and where and they remain active and contagious for several hours. Also you can contract the virus by putting your fingers in your nose or mouth or rubbing your eyes and after you have touched the infected surface.

Risk factors: Here are risk factors for measles:

  • Having a Vitamin A deficiency: If you do not have enough Vitamin A in your diet, then you are more likely to contract measles and to have more severe symptoms. [2]
  • Being unvaccinated: If you have not received the vaccine for measles, then you are much more likely to develop the disease. [3]
  • Traveling internationally: If you travel to developing countries, where measles is more common, then you have increased risk of catching this disease. [4]

Complications: Complications of measles can include:

  • Low platelet count (thrombocytophenia)
  • Pregnancy problems [5]
  • Encephalitis
  • Pneumonia [6]
  • Bronchitis, laryngitis or croup
  • Ear infection


[1] World Health Organization. More than 140,000 die from measles as cases surge worldwide. 2019. Retrieved from www.

[2] D’Souza RM, D’Souza R. Vitamin A for treating measles in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2002(1):CD001479.

[3] Carazo S, Billard MN, Boutin A, De Serres G. Effect of age at vaccination on the measles vaccine effectiveness and immunogenicity: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2020.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. International travel and measles – Infographic. Retrieved from

[5] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Management of pregnant and reproductive aged women during a measles outbreak. 2019.

[6] Olson RW, Hodges GR. Measles pneumonia: Bacterial suprainfection as a complicating factor. JAMA. 1975;232(4):363-5.

Merlin Joy
Merlin Joy
Holding a doctorate degree, Dr. Merlin Joy AKA Sinatra developed passion for home remedies from her mother, grand father and grandmother. Sinatra loves to read books and hiking. You can contact her through [email protected]


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