This Is How Measles Can Affect the Body

1 in 20 kids with measles develop pneumonia, which can turn fatal.

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Most people recognize measles by its unique rash, but those flat red spots aren’t the first symptoms to appear. The measles virus is contagious for four days before the measles rash appears, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so being familiar with the early signs could help prevent the infection from spreading.

Hypothetically, if someone with measles was in a room full of people without immunity, the CDC estimates that around 90 percent of people would catch the infection. (Learn more facts about the danger of measles here.)

The earliest symptoms of measles appear one or two weeks after measles infection. Early measles symptoms include:

  • Cough

  • Runny nose

  • High fever

  • And red and watery eyes.

Two to three days after these early, flu-like symptoms, white spots pop up inside the mouth. These are called Koplik spots. This might be the first giveaway that you’re dealing with measles and not some other, less serious illness.

Shortly after (about three to five days after the initial symptoms begin), the telltale measles rash will appear. The rash looks like flat, red spots, and they tend to start around the hairline and spread downward. Eventually, the rash becomes so prolific that the spots join together to cover most of the skin. At this time, the fever may stretch above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Complications of Measles

The symptoms of measles are—unfortunately—not the only thing to worry about. The problem with measles is that there are common complications of measles that can be problematic and sometimes fatal. One in four cases of measles results in hospitalization, according to the CDC, which shows how challenging measles can be.

The most common complications of measles include ear infections and pneumonia. About one in 10 kids who get measles develop an ear infection. Sometimes, this results in permanent hearing loss.

Around one in 20 kids with measles develop pneumonia, an infection in one or both lungs. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death among cases of measles.

Another complication of measles is something called encephalitis, or the swelling of the brain. This severe complication affects one in every 1,000 child cases of measles. It can cause convulsions, deafness, and intellectual disabilities.

Worst of all, measles can be fatal. Worldwide, measles caused 110,000 deaths in 2017—primarily among children younger than five—according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, about one or two children in every 1,000 cases will die from measles.

Luckily, all of these symptoms and complications of measles are preventable thanks to a safe and effective MMR vaccine. Learn more here about the recommended vaccine schedule for babies, and find out which myths about vaccines you can ignore here.