Measles: Symptoms and treatment

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Measles symptoms

Symptoms can appear 7 to 18 days after exposure to the measles virus. But before you even know you are sick, you can spread the measles to others.

Initial symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • red eyes
  • sleepiness
  • irritability (feeling cranky or in a bad mood)

Small, white spots may appear inside the mouth and throat. These are called Koplik spots.

About 3 to 7 days after symptoms begin, a red blotchy rash develops on the face and spreads down the body. The rash can last 4 to 7 days.

Complications can include:

  • ear infections
  • blindness
  • pneumonia (lung infection)
  • encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which can cause seizures, brain damage or death
  • premature labour, miscarriage and low birth weight if contracted during pregnancy

Contagious period

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. You can spread measles to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appears. The virus is highly contagious and is most often spread when people first get sick or before they know they have measles.

If you get the measles

If you are showing symptoms of measles, contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible and describe your symptoms over the phone. Because measles is so contagious, follow their instructions so that they can arrange to see you without exposing others to the virus.

It is very important to diagnose measles early to help prevent it from spreading to other people.

How measles is diagnosed

Healthcare providers can diagnose measles based on your symptoms and your possible exposure to the virus (if there has been a recent outbreak in your community). Your healthcare provider will confirm if you have the measles virus with a:

  • blood test
  • lab test of your urine
  • nasopharyngeal (back of the nose and throat) swab

Measles treatment

There is no cure for the measles virus. The treatment is meant to relieve symptoms and to prevent severe complications.

If you have measles, you should avoid contact with others as much as possible. This will help to limit the spread of the virus to other people.

Your healthcare provider will likely:

  • ask that you stay at home until 4 days after the rash first appears unless your symptoms worsen
  • give you medication (like pain relievers) to reduce your fever
  • tell you to drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods and get lots of rest

Most people fully recover from the measles within 2 or 3 weeks.

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