Measles is spread through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing and is highly contagious. The symptoms of measles generally begin approximately seven to 14 days after a person is exposed to someone with measles. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and rash. Anyone who has these symptoms should contact his or her healthcare provider. There is no specific treatment for measles.
Although it is usually considered a childhood disease, it can be contracted at any age. Generally, preschool children, adolescents, young adults and inadequately immunized individuals comprise the majority of measles cases in the United States.
Possible Health Complications from Measles
Children under 5 years old and adults over 20 years old are more likely to suffer complications from measles, including:
- Ear infections occur in about 1 in 10 children who catch measles. Permanent hearing loss is possible.
- Diarrhea occurs in about 1 in 10 people who catch measles.
- Pneumonia occurs in about 1 in 20 children who catch measles. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
- Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) occurs in about 1 in 1,000 children who catch measles. Encephalitis can lead to convulsions, deafness or intellectual disabilities.
- Death occurs in about 1 or 2 out of 1,000 children who catch measles.
- Pregnant women who catch measles are at risk of premature birth or have a low-birth-weight baby.
- People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia and HIV infection, may be especially at risk for measles complications.
Vaccination Urged to Protect Against Measles
The best way to protect yourself and your family against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases is by immunization. Health care providers and county health departments offer the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), which prevents those diseases.
In Florida, children should be immunized against measles with the MMR vaccine and should receive two doses, with the first at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second at four to six years of age. Adults should be vaccinated with at least one dose of MMR vaccine, with a second dose recommended for those at higher risk, such as international travelers and health care workers. People with underlying health conditions should speak with their health care provider to determine the need for additional booster doses.