Children - Rubeola (Measles)

What is measles?

Measles, also called 10-day measles, red measles, or measles, is a viral illness respiratory disease. It causes a red, blotchy rash or skin eruption. Measles has a distinct rash that helps aid in the diagnosis.

Measles is spread from one child to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat. It is also spread through coughing and sneezing (airborne droplets) from an infected child because the virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat. This is a very contagious disease that usually consists of a fever, and cough, followed by a generalized rash. 

What causes the measles?

Measles virus, the cause of measles, is classified as a Morbillivirus. It is mostly seen in the winter and spring. Measles is preventable by proper immunization with the measles vaccine.

What are the symptoms of the measles?

It may take between seven to 14 days for a child to develop symptoms of measles after being exposed to the disease. It is important to know that a child is contagious about four days before the rash breaks out and four days after the rash develops. Therefore, children may pass the disease to others before they even know they have it.

During the early phase of the disease (which lasts between one and four days), symptoms usually resemble those of an upper respiratory infection. The following are the common symptoms of measles. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose

  • Hacking cough

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) 

  • Fever

  • Small spots with white centers (Koplik's spots) appear on the inside of the cheek (usually occur two or three days after symptoms begin )

  • Rash. Deep, red, flat rash that starts on the face and spreads down to the trunk, arms, legs and feet. The rash starts as small distinct lesions, which then combines as one big rash. After three to seven days, the rash will begin to clear leaving a brownish discoloration and peeling skin.

  • Severe diarrhea 

The most serious complications from measles include the following:

  • Ear infections

  • Pneumonia

  • Croup

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

  • Blindness

The symptoms of measles may resemble other skin conditions or medical problems. Always see your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is measles diagnosed?

Measles is usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. The characteristic measles rash is unique and usually allow for a diagnosis simply on physical examination. In addition, your child's doctor may order blood or urine tests to confirm the diagnosis.


Specific treatment for measles will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • How sick he or she is

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies

  • How long the condition is expected to last

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for measles is to help decrease the severity of the symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics won't work. Treatment may include:

  • Increased fluid intake

  • Acetaminophen for fever (DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN)

  • Vitamin A. Two doses are recommended for all children in developing countries who get measles, to help prevent eye damage and blindness, and decrease the number of deaths from the disease. Always see your child's health care provider for advice.

If your child was exposed and has not been immunized, your child's doctor may give the MCV vaccine to the child within 72 hours or immune globin (IG) within six days of measles exposure to help prevent the disease.

How is measles prevented?

Since the use of the measles (or rubeola) vaccine, the incidence of measles has decreased substantially. A small percentage of measles are due to vaccine failure. The measles vaccine is usually given in combination with the mumps and rubella vaccine. It is called the MMR. It is usually given when the child is age 12 months to 15 months and then again between age 4 and 6. During an outbreak, another booster shot may be recommended by your child's health care provider. Other ways to prevent the spread of measles include:

  • Keeping children home from school or day care for four days after the rash appears. Always contact your child's health care provider for advice.

  • Make sure all of your child's contacts have been properly immunized.

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