Measles – a Simple Explanation

With all the news about measles and the controversy over vaccinations, it is useful to review the facts.

Measles (a.k.a. rubeola) is very contagious disease caused by a virus.
Because it lives in the mucous in the nose and throat, it is spread in the same way a cold is spread. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus lives in the air for about 2 hours after.
People are contagious 4 days before they have symptoms and about 4 days after.
90% of people who are not immune and come into contact with an infected person, will become infected with measles.

The first symptoms usually occur about 1-2 weeks after exposure.
Early symptoms:
Hacking cough
Runny nose
High fever
Red eyes
Koplik’s spots in the mouth (small ulcerated lesions in the mucosa)

3-5 days later a full body rash develops, starting on the face and moving downward. The high fever usually continues. The virus can last a couple of weeks and will resolve on its own if no serious complications occur. There is no cure but symptoms can be managed with fluids and fever reduction.

ear infections

pneumonia (1 in 20 kids w/ measles will develop pneumonia which is the most common cause of measles related death)
encephalitis (1 in 1,000 kids w/ measles will develop encephalitis which is a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness and intellectual disabilities)

Kids less than 5 and adults over 20 are at risk for the most severe complications. If a woman who is pregnant contracts measles, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or prematurity.

This year, there will be more measles cases than any year since it was considered eradicated. There have been about 650 cases reported since January. This week, two California colleges quarantined students because of a measles outbreak. The number of unvaccinated children is low at 1.3%, but it is higher than it has been in the past and is enough to cause unnecessary illness and complications.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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