Measles (Rubeola)

  • Medical Author:

    Dr. Eddie Hooker is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Louisville and at Wright State University. His areas of expertise include emergency medicine, epidemiology, health-services management, and public health.

  • Medical Author: Mary K. Bister, MD
  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Childhood Illnesses Every Parent Should Know

What are measles symptoms and signs?

A typical case of measles actually starts with a

  • fever,
  • runny nose,
  • hacking cough,
  • red eyes.

After two to four days of these symptoms, the patient may develop spots within the mouth called Koplik's spots. These spots look like little grains of white sand surrounded by a red ring and are usually found inside the cheek toward the back of the mouth (opposite the first and second upper molars).

The skin rash (also known as an exanthem or exanthema) appears three to five days after the onset of the initial symptoms (fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes). The rash is a flat to slightly raised (maculopapular) red rash that usually last five to six days. It begins at the hairline and then progresses to the face and upper neck. Over the next two to three days, the rash progresses downward to cover the entire body, including the hands and feet. The rash has mostly distinct lesions, but some may overlap (become confluent). Initially, these lesions will turn white when you press on them (blanch). After three to four days, they no longer will blanch. As the rash begins to fade, there will often be a fine flaking of the skin (desquamation). The rash fades in the same order that it appears.

The fever that occurs with measles is called a stepwise fever. The patient starts with a mild fever that progressively gets higher. Fevers often reach temperatures greater than 103 F (39.4 C).

Although not as common as other symptoms, some patients may have a sore throat.

What is the danger of getting measles while pregnant?

If a woman contracts measles while she is pregnant, she may have a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a preterm delivery. There appears to be no risk of having birth defects (unlike an infection with the rubella virus, known as German measles).

What is the incubation period for measles?

The typical time from exposure to a person infected with measles to development of the initial symptoms (incubation period) is 10-12 days (the range is seven to 21 days). The rash occurs a few days after the initial symptoms (ranges from seven to 18 days from exposure).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/6/2015
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