Measles: What you need to know

Mighty Blog

What you need to know about the measles

Measles stage 1
The measles rash consists of small red spots, some of which are slightly raised, and first appear on your head.

Written by Joe Kurland

While no longer common in the U.S., recent measles cases in Minnesota have prompted cause for concern. Measles is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Measles is an extremely contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Unlike other diseases, measles is spread through the air through coughing and sneezing, and is easily breathed in by others. If vaccinated, you are protected. If an unvaccinated person breathes the air the virus is in they have a 90% chance of getting measles.

Below are answers to a few questions regarding measles including who’s at risk, what the symptoms are and how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Measles stage 2
The measles rash works its way down the neck and shoulders.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?
The most common symptoms of measles are similar to those of a common cold. These symptoms include:

  • Cough;
  • Runny nose;
  • Red, watery eyes;
  • Fever; and
  • Characteristic rash

Symptoms appear between 7 to 21 days (generally two weeks) after a person is exposed to measles. What begins like cold or allergy symptoms (cough, runny nose, watery eyes), progresses to the measles symptoms, fever, followed by rash. The rash consists of small red spots, some of which are slightly raised, which first appear on your head. The rash begins at the hairline and works its way down the body. People who have been infected with measles typically notice the rash appearing a few days after the fever begins and lasting six days.

During the final stage, the measles rash will progress down the trunk of the body.

How can I protect myself from the measles?
The best way to prevent the measles is to be fully vaccinated. New vaccination guidelines from the CDC recommend that adults and children receive two doses of the MMR (Measles, Mumps & Rubella) vaccine. The MMR vaccine is safe and highly effective, and can be given to people from 1 year of age and older. If you are concerned that you may not be fully vaccinated, check with your primary care provider or clinic and confirm you and your child each have two documented doses of the vaccine.

Who should not receive the vaccine?
The MMR vaccine should not be given to someone who is pregnant or immunosuppressed. 

What do I do if I think I have been exposed?
Since measles is easily spread to others, the best course of action is to stay home and call your primary care clinic for guidance if you think you have measles. If you have not been vaccinated, or are unaware of your current vaccination status, it is recommended that you receive an MMR shot within three days of exposure. Children or adults with weakened immune systems may receive a shot of immune globulin within six days to prevent or lessen the severity of measles. If your care provider requests you come in for an evaluation of your illness, take precautions to avoid possibly spreading measles to others. Such steps may include:

  • Having a child wear a mask if you are using public transportation and upon entry to a health care facility.
  • Covering infants and young children who do not tolerate masks to contain infectious droplets they may cough into the air.

Most residents of Minnesota are protected. The MDH school immunization data from the 2015-16 school year indicates that 93% of kindergartners are protected with the MMR vaccine. However, there are several school districts and communities that fall well below the 95% immunization coverage threshold required to prevent community spread of measles. If your children live in these districts, please review their immunization status with your primary care provider or clinic to make sure you are doing your part to keep this disease in check.

For more information on the measles, please talk to your primary care clinic or visit the websites below.


Measles in the news

Joe Kurland is a vaccine specialist and infection preventionist at Children’s Minnesota.

A photo of Joe Kurland, MPH
Joe Kurland, MPH
Rachel Patterson