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What is measles?

Measles is an infection caused by a virus. Measles is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also spread through direct contact, such as sharing cups or toys.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

Your child may develop a rash about 2 to 3 days after he starts to feel sick. The measles rash usually begins on the face and head and then spreads down to the legs and feet. It may first appear as tiny spots that later join together to make large patchy bumps. The rash usually disappears in 5 to 8 days, and may cause the skin to peel afterward. Your child may also have any of the following:

  • A fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, and muscle aches
  • Red, irritated eyes that are sensitive to light
  • Small white spots that appear inside his mouth, usually on the cheeks
  • Abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea

How is measles diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider may be able to diagnose measles based on your child's symptoms and a physical exam. Your child may need a blood test to confirm the infection.

How is measles treated?

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Cough medicine is given to decrease your child's urge to cough and help him rest.

What can I do to manage my child's symptoms?

  • Give your child liquids as directed. Liquids help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him. Give your child water, juice, or broth instead of sports drinks. He may need an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar your child needs to replace body fluids. Ask your child's healthcare provider where you can get ORS.
  • Help your child rest. He should rest as much as possible and get plenty of sleep.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier. A humidifier helps increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for your child to breathe and help decrease his cough.
  • Give your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. This will help your child feel better and have more energy. If he is not hungry or gets tired easily, try feeding him smaller amounts more often.
  • Protect your child's eyes. Keep the lights dim or give your child sunglasses to wear. This will help decrease pain caused by sensitivity to light.

What can I do to prevent measles?

  • Ask your child's healthcare provider about the MMR vaccine. This vaccine helps protect your child and others around him from measles, mumps, and rubella.
  • Prevent the spread of germs. Have your child stay away from others, especially anyone who is pregnant, or who has not had the MMR vaccine. Keep your child home from school or daycare until his healthcare provider says he can return.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has trouble breathing or is breathing faster than usual.
  • Your child has a headache, drowsiness, and stiff neck.
  • Your child seems confused or less alert than usual.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's cough lasts for more than 4 days.
  • Your child coughs up thick mucus.
  • Your child has an earache.
  • Anyone in your household develops a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.