Measles Outbreaks: What to Know

FAQs About Measles Outbreaks

Nemours Children’s experts have compiled the most frequently asked questions we get about measles. With news of scattered measles outbreaks around the country, we want to help you make the best health choices for your family.

For more information about measles, vaccinations and prevention strategies, visit Nemours KidsHealth®, or contact your child’s provider if you have questions not answered here. 

Measles is a contagious infection that causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms. Most healthy kids will recover fully from measles with only supportive relief for symptoms. 

Rarely, however, measles can trigger serious secondary infections like encephalitis (brain swelling) or pneumonia (swelling in the air sacs of the lung), especially among kids who are immune compromised. Vaccination remains vital to prevent these complications.

Measles is an airborne virus, meaning it spreads through infected droplets that linger in the air after coughing and sneezing. These particles can also contaminate things like utensils, tables and doorknobs. 

Measles is most contagious four days before and four days after the classic skin rash appears. People may not know they are contagious for a few days before any symptoms appear.

Early signs of measles are like other viruses. Symptoms can include runny nose, dry cough, tiredness and loss of appetite. The classic skin rash starts on the head and scalp, then spreads to the trunk and out to the extremities. Measles can also cause small white spots along the cheeks and gums inside the mouth. 

As symptoms worsen, kids can have a high spiking fever, consistent hacking cough and bloodshot eyes.

There is no current antiviral medication or antibiotic to treat measles. 

We focus on supportive measures to relieve symptoms and avoid secondary complications. Keeping well hydrated, getting rest, managing fever and breathing treatments help. 

Children who are at high risk (<12 months old, under-immunized, or immune suppressed) may benefit from an oral medication to help clear the infection more quickly. 

Contact your care provider right away if you have any reason to believe your child was directly exposed to a confirmed, active measles case. We can help you with next steps. 

Also reach out if you see signs, noted above, that your child has measles. We’ll let you know if they need an evaluation. 

Yes, you can treat measles at home if you closely track symptoms and watch for concerning changes. 

Most children recover fully with ample sleep, increased fluids, acetaminophen for fever and body aches, and cool baths to soothe skin. It’s important to disinfect household surfaces, utensils and linens to lower the risk for infecting family members. 

Call us if your child has worsening symptoms, like difficulty breathing, a persistent fever, confusion or dark urine. 

While most children will recover at home within a few days, you should watch for certain problems.

Seek emergency care if your child has sustained fever spikes above 104 F, is breathing quickly, has signs of dehydration, is vomiting, lethargic or has pale gray skin.  

You can limit your child’s infection risk by making sure they have the recommended two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Vaccinated children have very little chance of contracting measles. 

You can help your child maintain good handwashing hygiene, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and promptly seeking medical advice if symptoms of measles appear.

You can also work to strengthen your child’s immune system by prioritizing a healthy lifestyle. This includes ensuring a balanced diet, adequate rest and regular physical activity. 

Check your local or state health department’s website for current information. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posts bi-weekly updates on outbreaks.