Measles Information

Red measles rash all over the arm, side and cheek of a child lying on his side in bed.
Red measles rash all over the arm, side and cheek of a child lying on his side in bed.

How Contagious Is Measles?

Measles Is Preventable Through Vaccination

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Measles is one of the most contagious viral illnesses, but it’s also very preventable. Prevention is key because 90% of people who don’t have some sort of immunity to it will be infected if they are exposed to the virus.

Northwestern Medicine Pediatrician Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, shares more about measles.

Measles Symptoms

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Runny nose
  • Red rash from head to toe (sometimes a bumpy red rash in the mouth as well)
The measles vaccine is safe and effective.
— Anita Chandra-Puri, MD

Possible Complications From Measles

  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Pneumonia
  • Late onset encephalitis (brain infection)

How Measles Spreads

The measles virus lives in respiratory droplets and spreads through coughing or sneezing. You can get measles by breathing contaminated air or touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

How to Prevent Measles

“The most important thing to know about the measles is that it is a vaccine-preventable illness,” says Dr. Chandra-Puri. “We have had a highly effective vaccine against the measles since the 1960s.”

After a single dose of the vaccine, 93% of people are immune to the virus, and after two doses between 97% and 99% of people are immune. This vaccine is a routine part of the recommended childhood immunization series in the U.S., given at 1 and 4 years of age. Because the vaccine is so effective, and so many people have gotten it, measles was considered eradicated from the United States in the year 2000.

The second dose of the vaccine wasn’t added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended immunization schedule until 1990, so if you wish to update your immunization status, please discuss with your clinician.

Resurgence of Measles

“Unfortunately, measles has continued to be a problem in other countries where vaccine rates haven’t been as high,” says Dr. Chandra-Puri. “And that same problem seems to be happening now in the U.S. where vaccine rates have fallen.”

Unvaccinated individuals visiting or returning from other countries can spread measles to people who are at risk and cause an outbreak.

Who is at risk for measles?

  • People who can’t be vaccinated due to certain allergies or medical problems
  • Babies too young to receive the vaccine

“For everyone else, the measles vaccine is safe and effective, and the best way we have to protect ourselves from this disease,” adds Dr. Chandra-Puri.

Treatment for Measles

Like most viruses, you treat measles by treating the symptoms of the disease. If you suspect your child has measles, contact their pediatrician. They will recommend treatment based on your child’s unique needs.

If you are unsure about your immunization history or are worried about exposure or being infected with the measles virus, contact your primary care clinician.

Learn more about pediatric immunizations.

Return of Measles
Return of Measles

Northwestern Medicine Pediatrician Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, explains why the measles virus is making headlines again, and what you can do to protect yourself.