Measles

General Information

Measles is a reportable disease in Arizona and should be reported to the local health department immediately if it is suspected by a provider. All providers and laboratories are required to report cases of measles. All cases of measles are interviewed to confirm diagnosis and to collect any information of potential exposures.

What is measles?

Measles is an acute, highly communicable disease caused by the measles virus. Before the routine vaccination program was introduced in the United States, measles was a common illness in infants, children and young adults. Because most people have now been vaccinated, measles has become a rare disease in the United States. Consequently, the illness is rarely found in Arizona.

What are the symptoms of measles?

The major symptom associated with measles is the rash. This rash generally starts on the head and slowly spreads down the rest of the body. Other symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. These symptoms last about a week.

Where is the measles virus found?

The only known hosts for the measles virus are humans.

How do people become infected with the measles virus?

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is transmitted by direct contact with infectious droplets or, less commonly, by airborne spread. Measles virus may survive for up to 2 hours on environmental surfaces.

Who is at risk for acquiring measles?

Anyone who is not immune from either a previous measles infection or from vaccination can get measles. Before the routine vaccination program was introduced in the United States, measles was a common illness in infants, children and young adults. Because most people have been vaccinated, measles is now a rare disease in the United States.

Is measles contagious?

Yes, measles is highly contagious. When someone with measles sneezes or coughs they can spray infected droplets into the air. These droplets can remain suspended in the air for periods as long as two hours until they are breathed in by someone else, or they may fall out of the air and land on various surfaces. Anyone who touches these surfaces after they have become contaminated and then puts their fingers in their nose or mouth may become infected.

How is measles diagnosed?

A diagnosis of measles requires the detection of measles virus or IgM antibodies to measles virus in a clinical specimen such as a nasopharyngeal swab or blood. Laboratory testing should be arranged by contacting your local health department.

What are some of the complications associated with measles?

The disease can be severe, with the most frequent complications being diarrhea (8%), middle ear infection (7%-9%), and pneumonia (1%-6%). Encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, frequently resulting in permanent brain damage, occurs in about 1 per 1000-2000 cases of measles. The risk of severe complications and death is higher among children younger than 5 and adults older than 20 years of age.

What is the treatment for measles?

There is no treatment for measles that targets the infection directly. Available treatments are directed at taking care of the symptoms and any complications.

If someone becomes very ill, they should seek medical attention immediately. If someone seeks medical attention, they should call their doctor in advance so the doctor can take appropriate precautions at their office to ensure they don't spread the virus to other vulnerable people, such as very young infants.

What can be done to prevent the spread of measles?

The measles vaccine (usually MMR), is the best way to prevent measles. Other things people can do to prevent measles and other infections are to thoroughly wash their hands often with soap, and to teach children to wash their hands too. Eating utensils should not be shared, and surfaces that are frequently touched (toys, doorknobs, tables, counters, etc.) should be regularly cleaned with soap and water, or with cleaning wipes.

Please refer to the Measles Prevention and Control Page for more information regarding measles prevention and vaccination.

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