What Happens When You Get Measles

About the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection

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Measles (Rubeola)

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © 2009 NMSB - Custom Medical Stock Photo

Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious viral infection that affects people around the world. While it is especially serious for small children, it can easily be prevented with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Measles is seen not only in the United States but around the world. Despite having a highly effective vaccine, the disease is still widespread in many countries, affecting as many as 20 million people each year.

Measles is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets (such as when a person sneezes) and only takes a minuscule amount to infect. When a non-immunized person is exposed to the virus, it can rapidly spread from the nose and respiratory tract to the lymph nodes. From there, it can then enter the bloodstream to infect major organs like the skin, kidneys, and liver.

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Measles Rash on the Face

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © 2009 NMSB - Custom Medical Stock Photo

After the virus enters the body, it incubates for 10 to 14 days before symptoms being to appear. Initial symptoms are similar to those of influenza: a sore throat, cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, and fever. This is soon followed by the appearance of a red, blotchy rash. It is also the time when the person is most contagious.

The measles rash most often begins on the face, usually around the hairline and forehead. It starts out with red, sponge-like bumps that soon come together to form larger clusters (pictured). The rash then moves down to the rest of the body.

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Koplik Spots

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © 2009 O.J. Staats MD - Custom Medical Stock Photo

Measles symptoms are very similar to that of influenza. To tell the difference, look in the mouth of a recently infected person. After two days following the initial flu-like symptoms, the person will develop something called Koplik spots. 

Koplik spots are tiny blue-white lesions that appear on the inside of the cheek toward the molars (pictured). The rash generally follows in about two days; the spots are usually gone two days after.

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Koplik Spots

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © CDC

Koplik spots are a prodromic symptom of measles, meaning that they serve as an early warning sign of an illness that is about to begin. Koplik spots (pictured) only occur in measles and are often key to making an early diagnosis.

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The Classic Measles Face

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © CDC

During the first six days of measle infection, the person will have red eyes, a runny nose, and a cough that will persist throughout the illness. It is common for the eyes to appear sick and fatigued (pictured). Oftentimes, the individual will have to breathe through his or her mouth because of his nasal symptoms.    

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Measles Rash on the Back and Legs

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © CDC

The measles rash will start on the forehead and spreads throughout the entire body, covering the trunk and extremities. The rash at its worst on Day 3 (pictured). ​ 

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Close-up of an Early-Stage Measles Rash

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © 2009 NMSB - Custom Medical Stock Photo

The measle rash starts with small, red spots that are slightly raised and discrete (pictured). There is still a lot of spaces around the bumps, which can sometimes be itchy.

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Close-up of a Late-Stage Measles Rash

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © 2009 NMSB - Custom Medical Stock Photo

In later-stage infection, the red spots will have multiplied so much that they join together (pictured). As the rash progresses, it becomes nearly impossible to discern the individual spots. Instead, the rash will appear more as raised, inflamed patches. 

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Measles Rash on the Buttocks and Thigh

Photos of the Very Serious & Easily-Prevented Infection. Photo © CDC

When the infection finally begins to subside, the rash will begin to fade first from the face and down the rest of the body. Rashes on the feet and thighs (pictured) are the last to fade.

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