The measles is an upper respiratory viral infection that can be a relatively mild disease for many people, but about 20 percent of those infected with the virus can experience complications that require hospitalization, according to Amesh Adalja, MD, assistant professor and senior scholar who specializes in emerging infectious disease at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. "It was a very common disease in the United States until a highly effective vaccine was introduced in the early 1960s," he says.
Causes and Risk Factors of Measles
Those infected cells move throughout the body and release virus particles into the blood. The spleen, lymph nodes, liver, thymus, skin, and lungs can all become infected with the virus.
You can get measles if you breathe in contaminated air or touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching an infected surface. You can pass on the virus to someone else four days before and after a rash appears.
Duration of Measles
After this period, a rash (usually on the face and upper neck) appears. Over about a three-day period it spreads all over the body, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash typically lasts five to six days until it fades.
Complications of Measles
- Children younger than 5
- Adults older than 20
- Pregnant women
- People who have compromised immune systems, for example those with leukemia or HIV infection
Is It a Cold, the Flu, or Pneumonia?
Ear Infection Approximately 10 percent of children who get the measles also get an ear infection, which can result in permanent hearing loss, according to the CDC.
COVID-19 and Measles
One of the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Adalja, is that measles vaccination efforts around the world are faltering. "Even in the United States, we saw measles vaccination rates go down during the height of the pandemic, in the spring when there were stay-at-home orders and nonemergency care was suspended," he says. Measles remains a threat, and the more people that get the measles vaccine, the quicker we can eradicate this virus from the planet, he adds.
Resources We Love
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC website provides comprehensive, up-to-date information about infectious diseases, such as measles, found in the United States and around the world.
This website, from the American Academy of Family Physicians, offers education and medical advice on a variety of conditions, including measles.
MedlinePlus is a service of the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library, which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH). The agency provides health and wellness information in both English and Spanish.
Additional reporting by Joseph Bennington-Castro.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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