Health awareness

Signs & symptoms of measles

What you need to know about this highly contagious virus

September 2, 2021

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What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of an infected person. Symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after contact with the virus.

Learn the symptoms

The most common symptoms of measles include:

High fever

High fever
(may spike to more than 104°F)

cough

Cough

runny nose

Runny nose

watery eyes

Red, watery eyes
(conjunctivitis)

Spots in the mouth
(2-3 days after symptoms begin)

rash

Rash
(3-5 days after symptoms begin)

Measles is highly contagious

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The measles virus can live for up to 2 hours in an airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed.

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If one person has measles, up to 90% of at-risk people close to that person will also become infected.

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Infected people can spread measles to others 4 days before through 4 days after the rash appears.

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After being exposed to measles, the incubation period of up to 21 days can impact the daily lives of patients and their caretakers (e.g., can result in lost work time or missed school days).

  • Measles can cause serious health complications, including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain).
  • About 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who get measles are hospitalized.
  • As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles get pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
  • Approximately 1 to 3 of every 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from respiratory and neurologic complications.

Understanding measles outbreaks

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Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

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2019 saw the greatest number of measles cases reported in the U.S. since 1992.

Before 1963, a decade before a vaccine became available, an estimated 3 to 4 million Americans contracted measles each year, leading to approximately 400 to 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations annually.

1,275 cases were reported in 2019

US map of reported cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more measles cases in 2019 than in any single year over the past 25 years.

In 2020, the number of measles cases in the U.S. dropped significantly, likely due in part to regulations put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these same regulations led to a decrease in routine child well visits, which leads experts to believe there could be an uptick in measles cases as restrictions ease.

Measles is still common in many parts of the world, and travelers with measles continue to bring the disease to the U.S. Measles can spread rapidly.

For more information, including the latest statistics on outbreaks, speak with your doctor or visit
https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html.