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Measles Virus FAQ

General Information

  • What is measles?

    Measles is a respiratory virus that causes high fever, cough, coryza, conjunctivitis, and a rash. After a person is exposed to the virus, it typically takes 14 days for the rash to appear. There is no treatment for the measles. Medical care is geared towards symptom relief and avoiding complications.

    Make sure you are up to date on your vaccines to protect yourself, immunocompromised family members, colleagues, and patients.

  • How is measles transmitted?

    By contact with saliva or mucus of an infected person and through air particles.

    You are not able to transmit the virus if you are vaccinated.

  • Is measles contagious?

    Measles is extremely contagious. Ninety percent of people who are susceptible (unvaccinated) and come into close contact with a person with the measles will get it. Measles is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, and sneezing. The measles can linger in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves that area.

  • How long is someone who has measles contagious?

    The contagious period is usually defined as the five days prior to the date of rash onset through the four days after the date of rash onset.

  • How do you prevent contracting the measles?

    Measles can be prevented by receiving two doses of the measles-containing vaccine. The vaccine is primarily administered as the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The combination measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine can be administered to children age 12 months to 12 years for protection against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chicken pox). Single-virus measles vaccine is not available.

    One dose of MMR vaccine is approximately 93 percent effective at preventing measles; two doses are approximately 97 percent effective. Almost everyone who does not respond to the measles component of the first dose of MMR vaccine at age 12 months or older will respond to the second dose.

  • Are there more cases of measles than before?

    Measles still appears in communities around the United States, despite it being declared eliminated as a major public health threat in 2000. One reason is that there are pocket populations and communities of persons who are unvaccinated against measles. This allows the extremely contagious disease to spread easily.

    Another reason for an increased number of cases is infection from unvaccinated individuals who travel to and from endemic countries. If you’re planning to travel internationally, visit Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Travel Health Notices and consult with your health care provider before traveling.

    Measles cases in the United States are increasing at an alarming rate. If transmission continues we are at risk of losing our eradication status.

    For up-to-date information on the number of reported cases of measles, please visit the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention: Measles Cases and Outbreaks.

  • Why do some people die with the measles?

    People die from severe complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis.

Immunity & Exposure


Luis Ostrosky-Zeichner, MD, Vice Chair, Department of Internal Medicine and Professor of Infectious Diseases, McGovern Medical School

Susan Parnell, PhD, RN, Director of Corporate Occupational Health, Cizik School of Nursing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Measles (Rubeola).