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Highly Contagious: Measles

Friday, January 23, 2015 2:02 PM

Measles is extremely contagious, infecting nearly 90 percent of unvaccinated people who come into contact with it. Why is it so contagious? It’s spread through the air (via coughing/sneezing).  People standing in the airspace around the infected person can become infected by breathing in these respiratory droplets; they do not need to be sneezed or coughed on directly.  Those infected with measles are at their most contagious the four days prior to the appearance of the rash, meaning they are extremely contagious before they themselves are aware of the virus. 

Measles symptoms develop approximately 8-12 days after exposure but the measles rash will not develop until 3 -5 days after symptoms first appear. The first symptoms are similar to a severe cold:

  • High fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • And white-to-bluish spots may appear in the mouth immediately following the above symptoms

The measles rash begins on the face but quickly spreads downward, covering the body. Fever may be at its highest—topping 104 degrees Fahrenheit—at the appearance of the rash.  

Before the measles vaccine, more than three to four million people in the U.S. would contract the virus each year. Infected individuals can develop mild-to-severe complications including pneumonia, blindness, deafness, brain swelling, permanent neurological damage and even death. 

Julie Holland, MD, Head of General Pediatrics at NorthShore, discusses who should receive the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and when: 

Everyone should be vaccinated. Vaccines like MMR are a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. While there have been small outbreaks in the U.S., measles is very common in other parts of the world and can spread easily to the unvaccinated and under-vaccinated in the U.S. 

  • Children. The CDC recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine in childhood: the first dose between 12 and 15 months and the second at four to six years.
  • Teens and young adults. For unvaccinated individuals, two doses of the MMR vaccine are recommended for individuals in this age group: The first dose is given and then followed with a second dose a minimum of 28 days after the first.
  • Adults. For those born after 1957, the CDC recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine. 

Make an appointment or call your doctor or your child’s pediatrician to ensure you and your children are adequately vaccinated.