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Measles signs and symptoms appear seven to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Signs and symptoms of measles typically include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek, called Koplik's spots
  • A skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that often flow into one another

The infection occurs in sequential stages over a period of two to three weeks.

  • Infection and incubation. For the first seven to 14 days after you're infected, the measles virus incubates. You have no signs or symptoms of measles during this time.
  • Nonspecific signs and symptoms. Measles typically begins with a mild to moderate fever, often accompanied by a persistent cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis) and sore throat. This relatively mild illness may last two or three days.
  • Acute illness and rash. The rash consists of small red spots, some of which are slightly raised. Spots and bumps in tight clusters give the skin a splotchy red appearance. The face breaks out first, particularly behind the ears and along the hairline. Over the next few days, the rash spreads down the arms and trunk, then over the thighs, lower legs and feet. At the same time, fever rises sharply, often as high as 104 or 105 F (40 or 40.6 C). The measles rash gradually recedes, fading first from the face and last from the thighs and feet.
  • Communicable period. A person with measles can spread the virus to others for about eight days, starting four days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been present for four days.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you think you or your child may have been exposed to measles, or if you or your child has a rash resembling measles. Review your family's immunization records with your doctor, especially before starting elementary school, before college and before international travel.

Jun. 01, 2011