Skip to main content

Understanding measles

To stay safe from the measles, there’s one thing that works best: vaccination. In fact, 90 percent of people who aren’t vaccinated for measles will get it if they’re near an infected person.

Mother holding child outside smiling

What is measles?

Measles (also called rubeola) is caused by a virus. Measles spreads when people breathe in or have direct contact with virus-infected fluid. It can pass through droplets sprayed into the air when someone with measles sneezes or coughs.

People with measles can spread the disease from 4 days before a total-body rash starts until about 4 days after that. They're most contagious while they have:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough

People with weak immune systems due to other conditions (like HIV and AIDS) can spread the measles virus until they recover.

Call your doctor (your child’s doctor) right away if you think your child has measles or has been around someone who has measles, especially if your child:

  • Is an infant
  • Is taking medicines that suppress the immune system
  • Has tuberculosis, cancer, or a disease that affects the immune system

Signs and symptoms of measles

Measles causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms. Someone exposed to the virus that causes measles usually shows symptoms between 7 and 14 days later.

Symptoms may include:

  • A hacking cough
  • Runny nose
  • High fever
  • Red eyes
  • Koplik's spots (small red spots with blue-white centers) inside the mouth before the rash starts

Between 3 and 5 days after symptoms start, they get a total-body rash, sometimes along with a high fever up to 104°F (40°C). The red or reddish-brown rash usually:

  • Begins as flat red spots on the forehead, then
  • Spreads to the rest of the face, then
  • Spreads down the neck and torso to the arms, legs, and feet, and then
  • Goes away, along with the fever, after a few days

Kids with measles should be closely watched by a doctor. In some cases, measles can lead to other problems, such as:

  • Croup
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Encephalitis (irritation and swelling of the brain)
  • Pneumonia


For most kids, measles protection is part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine. The vaccine is given when the child is between 12 and 15 months old and again when they're between 4 and 6 years old.

More than 95 percent of children who get the MMR or MMRV vaccine will be protected from the three diseases throughout their lives.

The vaccine can be given to babies as young as 6 months old if they will be traveling internationally.

Talk to your doctor to see when the vaccine is needed.

Learn more about other vaccines a child should get and when they should get them

Use our online Find a Doctor service to identify physicians and facilities in your area where you can get vaccinations, such as for measles. Most pediatricians and primary care physicians offer this care.


Since measles is caused by a virus, there is no medical treatment. You have to let the virus run its course. A child who is sick should:

  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Get lots of rest
  • Stay home from school or daycare to prevent spreading the infection

Looking for help?

Find a doctor

Find a doctor, hospital, or pharmacy.

Value-added benefits

Learn about the extra benefits and services available to Humana Healthy Horizons in Ohio members.

Documents & forms

Find the documents and forms you need, including your Member Handbook.