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Diseases & Topics

Measles (Rubeola)

Measles is a vaccine-preventable infectious viral disease. It begins with a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). A rash starts on the face and upper neck, spreads down the back and trunk, then extends to the arms and hands, as well as the legs and feet. After about five days, the rash begins to fade.

Measles is highly contagious, even before infected people develop a rash. The measles virus resides in the mucus in the nose and throat of infected people. When they sneeze or cough, droplets spray into the air. The droplets remain active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to two hours.

Measles complications are dangerous. Six to 20 percent of the people who get the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea, or even pneumonia. One out of 1,000 people with measles will develop inflammation of the brain (meningitis), and about one out of 1,000 will die.

Before nationwide use of measles vaccine in the United States, hundreds of people died from measles every year and another 1,000 developed chronic disability from measles encephalitis. Although no longer widespread in the U.S., cases still occur here every year, and measles is still common in many other countries.

To protect your children, yourself, and others in the community, it is important to be vaccinated against measles. The MMR vaccine prevents measles and two other viral diseases: mumps and rubella. These three vaccines are safe given together and are usually given in two separate doses to ensure effectiveness.

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