Questions & Answers
Measles - The Disease
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  1. What causes measles?
    Measles is caused by a virus and is best known by its typical skin rash although it is primarily a respiratory infection. Measles used to be called rubeola, but this term should not be used, to avoid confusion with a different disease that sounds similar: rubella.

  2. How do I know if I have measles?
    Measles usually begins with a fever that lasts for a few days followed by a cough, runny nose, and “pink eye” (conjunctivitis). A characteristic rash inside the mouth (called Koplik spots) may be seen. A rash starts on the face and upper neck, spreads down the back and trunk, then extends to the arms, hands, legs, and feet. After about five days the rash fades in the same order it appeared. As the rash disappears, the healing skin may look brown temporarily, before it sheds in a finely textured peel.

  3. How serious is measles, especially to the Armed Forces?
    Measles is unpleasant and its complications can be very serious. About one out of a thousand people infected with measles will develop acute encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. This serious complication can lead to permanent brain damage. Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage, and low-birth-weight infants. Birth defects have not been linked to measles exposure. Measles can be especially severe in people with compromised immune systems. Six to 20 percent of people with measles will also develop an ear infection, diarrhea, or pneumonia. Complications from measles are more common among very young children (younger than five years old) and adults older than 20 years of age. For every thousand people infected with measles, 1 to 2 die.

  4. Is there a treatment for measles?
    There is no specific treatment for measles. People with measles need bed rest, fluids, and control of fever. Patients with complications may need treatment specific to their problem.