Measles - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Tackling Measles

Dr.Neha Gupta profile Authored by Dr.Neha Gupta on 2 Mar 2015 - 12:17.




MeaslesMeasles also called as morbilli, rubeola, or red measles is an infectious disease (viral infection) that typically affects children, mostly below 5 years of age. The virus causing Measles, resides in the mucous lining of the nose and throat in those exposed to this virus. Like any other infection, it is also characterized by some symptoms like fever, coughing, rash, inflamed eyes.


Though it was a common illness few years back, it has been brought under control with the help of immunization. Inspite of immunization programme implemented worldwide, Measles is believed to affect more than 20 million people a year and continues to kill more than 100,000 children around the world.  The patient with Measles usually carries a risk of 0.2% deaths, but it may go up to 10% if the patient is malnourished. 





As already mentioned, Measles is caused as a consequence of infection with Measles virus (MeV) that resides, grows and multiplies in the mucous lining of the throat and nose.  Further, infection spreads to healthy individuals through close physical contact, unprotected coughing and sneezing, etc. The virus can stay alive even in expelled mucus for about 2 hours and thus can be contracted on close contact with the contaminated or infected surface or any other item.

The symptoms usually begin about 12 days after getting infected which may last for about 10 days. The most common symptoms may include:

  • Fever (more than 104 F) - Fever often resolves 4-5 days after the onset of rash.
  • Inflamed and red eyes
  • Skin rashes and bumps (erythematous & non-pruritic) - develops on day 4 of illness
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Koplik's spots (typical white spots with reddish background inside the mouth, especially on inner linings of the cheek.)
  • Soreness or pain in the throat

A person with measles typically spreads the virus during the period, four days before the skin rashes to four days after the appearance of the rashes.

When to see a doctor?

Seek an immediate medical attention if you notice above mentioned signs and symptoms in your children. Most patients/ children recover with proper treatment, but some may need to re-visit in case of worsening symptoms.  Prominent symptoms that need medical attention may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dehydration
  • Obstructed breathing
  • Uncontrolled shaking of the body



Usually, most of the cases of Measles are diagnosed based on typical signs and symptoms observed during the initial assessment. However, following is the procedure to diagnose and confirm the Measles.

  • Assessment of medical history and history of travelling to high risk area
  • Physical exam
  • Blood test: To look for signs and symptoms of Measles.
  • Measles-specific IgM testing: It is done by either making an incision in the vein or by taking saliva as a sample for assessment.


Usually, children below 5 year old are more prone to get infected but other factors may include:

  • Missed immunization
  • ​Frequent travelling to different places around the world, especially in developing countries
  • Being vitamin A deficient
  • Malnutrition
  • Living in unhygienic and crowded place

Complications: Some of the prominent complications associated with Measles are



There is no absolute treatment that assures complete cure of an established measles infection. Fortunately, there are certain ways to treat the specific symptoms and also some measures to prevent the severe symptoms after the exposure to the viruses which are:

  • Antipyretic medications: To reduce the fever caused due to Measles. Several over-the counter (OTC) drugs may be given, including Paracetamol, Naproxen, Ibuprofen, etc.  Do not give aspirin to children below 3 years and teenagers suffering from flu symptoms.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are often chosen to treat the complications of the measles such as pneumonia and ear infections.  
  • Vitamin A supplements: Those with vitamin A deficiency are more prone to get contracted with measles. Hence giving vitamin A supplementation (in a dose of 200,000 IU for children > 1 year old for two days) may help to reduce the symptoms of Measles. 
  • Post-exposure immunization: It is recommended to get vaccinated within 72 hours of suspected exposure to Measles virus. This helps to reduce the severity of the symptoms and may last for a short span of time.
  • Immune serum globulin: It is an injection containing antibodies (body’s defence cells) that provides fighting strength against measles infection. It is typically indicated in those with a weakened immunity, pregnant women and infants, within 6 days of exposure to the virus. If given on time, it helps to reduce the severity of the symptoms and prevents them from worsening. 

Lifestyle and home remedies

In addition to medical management following lifestyle interventions may offer additional benefits while dealing with the Measles. These may include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Taking sufficient rest
  • Taking medicines or adopting home remedies to treat cough and sore throat (gargling with a mixture of warm water and salt may help to get relief from sore throat)
  • Resting your eyes by avoiding reading, television or exposure to light

Home remedies:

  • A mixture of turmeric, honey and milk may help to boost the immunity
  • A mixture of licorice and honey may help to treat cough and sore throat
  • A barley bath can help to reduce the severity of the skin rashes


Prevention is always better than cure. Some tips are:

  • Protect yourself/ your child from close contact with an infected person or items handled by him or her
  • If you have anyone infected at home, keep him/ her isolated
  • Maintain a good personal and surrounding hygien
  • Keep the floors clea
  • Wash hands frequentl
  • Ask your children to use a sanitizer in school premises before meal
  • The most important is “getting vaccinated” against Measle
  • Measles immunization: It is a must for all those born after 1957 and older than 6 months to get vaccinated against Measles.  It is available as “Mumps, Measles Rubella vaccine (MMR)”. The complete vaccination schedule is mandatory which includes two doses; one at the age of 12 to 13 months and second, at the age of 3.4 to 5 years.

Eating right: Here are the recommendations -

  • Eat healthy(fresh fruits and vegetables)
  • Eat foods containing vitamin A
  • Drink plenty of fruit (citrus) juice e.g. Orange, lemon, etc. (Sources of vitamin C)
  • Include good sources of fiber and minerals in your diet
  • Avoid coffee, tea and carbonated beverages
  • Cut down the processed, fatty and oily food from your diet.




*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.