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Measles in Children: What Parents Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Dec 15, 2022

Measles in Children: What Parents Need to Know

Definition and Transmission

Measles or rubeola is an illness caused by a virus belonging to the paramyxovirus.

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) recorded 140,000 measles-related deaths globally. Although most of these deaths were among children under the age of five, adults can also contract this disease.

The vaccine for measles was produced in 1963. Before that, a measles outbreak occurred every two to three years. Measles outbreaks caused around 2.3 million deaths worldwide.

These numbers have decreased since then, and in some parts of the world, measles have been totally eradicated.

Just recently, measles outbreaks have begun to occur again, because of a rise in people who have not received the vaccine against the disease.

Learn more about the virus, how potentially it can be life-threatening to people of all ages due complications such as diarrhea (dehydration) and pneumonia, and measles treatment and prevention measures.

How is measles transmitted?

This virus mainly infects the respiratory system, immune system, and the skin.

Once a person becomes infected with measles, the virus can live in the mucus found in the throat or the nose. This means that an infected person can spread the measles virus through coughing and sneezing. The measles virus can stay in the air for up to two hours, which is why it is so contagious. 

In fact, 90% of people who are exposed to an infected person will become infected with measles as well. That is if the people are not yet immune to the disease.

A person with measles typically develops a rash a few days after they have become infected. However, an infected person can already spread the disease four days before the rash appears and until four days after. 

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of measles usually appear around 10 to 14 days after you have been exposed to the virus. You will not usually feel any symptoms during these days. 

Measles symptoms in adults usually do not vary much from the measles symptoms that appear in children. 

The usual early symptoms of measles are the “three Cs”:

  • cough
  • coryza (runny nose)
  • conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyelid’s lining)

But measles also causes other signs and symptoms. After the incubation period, a person infected with measles may start showing the following symptoms:

  • High fever. This is usually the first sign of a measles infection and lasts for around four to seven days.
  • Koplik Spots. Not all of those with measles will show this sign. Two to three days after you have started showing symptoms, Koplik Spots may start to appear. Koplik Spots are raised and bluish-white spots located inside the mouth, specifically in the inner linings of the lips and cheeks. These spots usually appear a day before the measles rash starts to show.
  • Measles rash. A few days into a measles infection, a “measles” rash may appear. These are flat and red, and typically start at the hairline and spread to the torso and limbs.
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Conjunctivitis (or the inflammation of the eyes) 

Although some people believe that you should not give a child a bath during a measles infection, a lukewarm sponge bath may help alleviate other measles symptoms that may cause discomfort.

Baths also ensure that a child or adult suffering measles stays clean to avoid any further secondary infections.

It is important to spot the early symptoms in order to get properly diagnosed by a doctor and to receive measles treatment and prevention tips to avoid infecting others.

Risk Factors

It is possible to be completely immune to the disease. A person who has already been infected with measles is less at risk of developing the condition. This is because the body has already learned to fight the virus that causes measles. People who have received the complete vaccination for measles are also less at risk.

The risk factors for measles include:

  • Being unvaccinated. Young children who have not received the measles vaccine are most vulnerable to getting infected. Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk. Measles can cause complications that may harm the fetus.

Also, just because you get the measles vaccine does not mean you are completely immune to the virus. Some people who have had the vaccine can still get infected, though the chances are very low. 

  • Travel. If you have recently travelled to a place where measles is still rampant, you are at risk of getting infected.
  • Having a Vitamin A deficiency. Children who have a vitamin A deficiency are more at risk of getting infected, and more likely to develop severe measles-related symptoms.

Measles treatment and prevention

The treatment for measles is mostly supportive, since the body is mostly capable of fighting off the infection on its own. However, it is important that the symptoms are treated to prevent further complications. Infections of the ears and eyes are usually treated with antibiotics. 

How does measles Treatment and prevention differ for adults and children?

Measles treatment for babies or adults does not differ much, doctors will always recommend giving the patient a lot of fluids and making sure that they get enough rest. Children diagnosed with measles are also advised to take age and weight-specific doses of Vitamin A to make up for the loss that happens during measles infections. 

One of the best measles prevention measures is routine vaccination. The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is one effective way to prevent the disease.

As part of general measles treatment and prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get two doses of this vaccine. The first dose is usually administered when a child is aged 12-15 months, while the second dose is administered when a child is between four to six years old.

Other ways to prevent getting contracting the disease: 

  • Practicing proper respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth or nose whenever you would like to sneeze or cough.
  • Washing your hands regularly. This can stop the spread of other communicable diseases as well.

Key Takeaways

Measles is a contagious disease that primarily affects the respiratory system and causes symptoms like fever and rashes. Luckily, a vaccine for measles is already available to prevent this disease. 
If you would like to know more about how you or your child can avail of the vaccine for measles and get more info about measles treatment and prevention, consult your doctor.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Dec 15, 2022

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