Treatments for Kids with Measles

Measles Basics

Mother checking child's fever
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Although measles was once a common childhood disease in the United States, it was by no means a mild infection—those measles cases often were complicated by pneumonia, encephalitis, and seizures. And in about 0.1 to 0.2 percent of cases, measles was fatal. Fortunately, the measles vaccine has made this disease less common than it used to be.

Measles Treatments

But what happens if an unvaccinated child gets sick with measles today?

Unfortunately, just like in the past, there is no specific measles treatment or cure.

Even in a regular, uncomplicated case of measles, children can have fever (103 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit) for five to seven days, and most will need medical attention, as they're at risk of the complications mentioned above.

If a child develops measles, treatment will be mainly supportive and can include, when necessary:

  • oral or IV fluids so your child doesn't get dehydrated
  • oxygen
  • antipyretics (ibuprofen or acetaminophen in an age-appropriate dose) for fever control
  • vitamin A, which is used for children with certain risk factors, such as immunodeficiency, malnutrition, impaired and intestinal absorption, etc.
  • ribavirin, an antiviral medication, which is sometimes used for immunocompromised children and those with severe measles infections

Other measles treatments are targeted at any specific complications a child develops, such as treatments for pneumonia or seizures.

Vitamin A for Measles

What about giving extra vitamin A?

Doesn't vitamin A treat measles?

Vitamin A is an especially popular "treatment" that is pushed by doctors who also push non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules and the idea that measles is a mild disease, including Bob Sears and Jay Gordon.

While the World Health Organization does recommend that "all children in developing countries diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart," the United States is not a developing country.

While vitamin A is typically given to children with measles no matter where they are being treated, the effect is likely not going to be as dramatic as that seen in developing countries. One study done during the large measles outbreaks in New York City in the early 1990s found that only about 20% of kids with measles had low vitamin A levels.

A Cochrane Database review article, "Vitamin A for treating measles in children," while concluding that "two doses reduced overall and pneumonia-specific mortality in children aged less than two years," also emphasized that "the evidence from these studies can only be generalized in relation to low-income countries."

What You Need to Know About Measles Treatments

Other things to know about measles treatments include that:

  • Measles vaccination may help to prevent measles if given within 72 hours of exposure to someone with measles if they are not already immune (postexposure vaccination).
  • If you think your child has measles, be sure to take precautions before you go to your pediatrician or to the emergency room so that you don't expose other people. Put a mask over your child's face and nose and call ahead to minimize his contact with other children, especially infants who are too young to get their first dose of MMR, toddlers and preschoolers who haven't gotten a booster dose, and children with immune system problems.
  • Children with measles are usually considered to be contagious beginning four days before they develop the measles rash to four days after the rash starts.

Although there is no specific measles treatment, most parents aren't used to their child having a high fever (up to 103 to 105 degrees) for 5 to 7 days, so it is important to know what to do, make sure your child is comfortable, but not expose other children while your child has measles.

It is also important to get your child vaccinated and protected so he has a much lower risk of ever getting measles. Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks.


CDC. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, 12th Edition.

Long: Principles & Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 3rd ed.

Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 4th Edition, 2008-2009

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