The recent multi-state measles outbreaks in the US have focused
attention and concern on this very contagious disease. The
measles virus lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected
person. It spreads through the air by coughing or sneezing. Measles
virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected
person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated
air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or
mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one
person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are
not immune will also become infected.
Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after the rash appears.
Measles develops seven to 21 days after exposure. Early symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes. The distinctive red rash usually appears three to five days after early symptoms appear. A person is considered contagious four days before the rash appears. The rash begins on the face and head then proceeds downward and outward to the hands and feet. It fades in the same order it began, from head to feet.
See CDC's Measles Signs and Symptoms web page for more information.
Complications from measles are more common in children younger than 5 years old and adults 20 years and older. Complications can include diarrhea, ear infection and pneumonia. Death can occur from severe complications and the risk is higher among younger children and adults. There is no treatment for measles. Bed rest, fluids and fever control are recommended. People with complications may need treatment for their specific problem.
See CDC's Measles Complications web page for more information.
The best way to protect against measles is to get the measles vaccine, which is very effective. Two doses are about 97% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus. One dose is about 93% effective.
All persons born in 1957 or after should have documentation of at least one dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine or other evidence of immunity to measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses of the vaccine: the first at 12 months of age, and the second between ages 4–6 years.
Persons should check with their regular source of health care to make sure they have had immunizations to protect against measles, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
See CDC's Measles Vaccination web page for more
Measles and International Travel
Due to continuing measles outbreaks in a number of foreign countries, it's very important that people planning international travel make sure they are protected against the disease.
Here are measles immunization recommendations from the CDC for international travel:
- Infants 6-11 months old need 1 dose of measles vaccine*
- Children 12 months and older need 2 doses separated by at least 28 days
- Teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity** against measles should get 2 doses separated by at least 28 days.
*Infants who get one dose of MMR vaccine before their first
birthday should get two more doses according to the routinely
recommended schedule (one dose at 12 through 15 months of age and
another dose at 4 through 6 years of age or at least 28 days
**Acceptable evidence of immunity against measles includes at least one of the following: written documentation of adequate vaccination, laboratory evidence of immunity, laboratory confirmation of measles, or birth in the United States before 1957.
See CDC's Measles For Travelers web page for more information.
The CDC’s Measles web pages have additional
information and links to resources about measles, measles outbreaks,
and measles vaccine. Resources include:
Don't Let Measles Be Your Travel Souvenir
Don't Let Measles Be Your Travel Souvenir (Spanish)
Measles FAQ (Spanish)
Measles Cases and Outbreaks
The California Department of Public Health has a Measles web page with information about measles and measles activity in California.
County News Center news releases:
County Working to Prevent Measles (May 3, 2019)
County Urges Adults to Be Aware of Their Vaccination History (May 2, 2019)
CAHAN Advisories for Health Care Providers:
Measles Outbreaks in the United States and Overseas (April 25, 2019)
Measles Outbreaks in Washington, New York, and Overseas (January 31, 2019)
CDC Clinician Outreach and Communication:
Digital Measles Toolkit for Providers
For general information about measles, you can also call 2-1-1.