How to Spot Early Symptoms of Measles

May 7th 2016

Measles infections are commonly treated with over-the-counter fever-reducing medications, bed rest and increased fluid intake; antibiotics are not effective against the virus. The MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, varicella) vaccine that is often administered in early childhood helps to prevent the infection from occurring. Seeking medical treatment at the first signs of a potential measles infection and following specific home treatment instructions can help prevent complications and encourage healing, allowing the patient to recovery fully.

Nasal Symptoms

Sneezing and excessive nasal secretions often develop in individuals with measles within a few days following exposure. These symptoms are similar to common cold or flu symptoms, so it is important for parents of children who have possibly been exposed to the virus to seek immediate medical attention. Adults who suspect they have been exposed to measles should also seek medical treatment.

Hacking Cough and Sore Throat

Another common early symptom of measles is a hacking cough. A high fever and sore throat may accompany the cough. These symptoms are similar to flu infections, so it can be difficult to determine the underlying culprit in the early days of the illness. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and sore, inflamed eyes may also be present.

Diarrhea and Stomach Upset

Individuals exposed to measles may also experience bouts of diarrhea and upset stomach that may be mistaken for the stomach flu or food poisoning. However, intestinal symptoms due to measles infections are often accompanied by fever, swollen glands, sore throat and respiratory symptoms. Individuals with diarrhea caused by the measles virus may also feel extremely tired.

Red Spots

Distinct red spots that are circular in shape are the most telltale symptoms of measles infections. The spots can take up to 18 days to develop, and first present as small white markings inside the mouth. Within a few days, the spots turn into an all-over body rash. In most cases, early symptoms of measles such as sneezing, coughing and sore throat begin to dissipate as the red spots develop.


Measles, also referred to as rubeola, is a highly contagious illness that is caused by a virus. Because vaccines are available in the United States and Canada, measles tends to be rare, but there is still a chance of contracting the virus. Measles spreads through sneezing, coughing and direct contact with contaminated items such as drinking glasses or silverware. The virus can be contagious in infected individuals for up to four days before physical symptoms appear. Detecting measles in the disease's early stages helps ensure prompt diagnosis and effective treatment, reducing the time the patient suffers painful symptoms.

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