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Measles is an illness that is spread through the coughs and sneezes of infected people. Symptoms include high fever, hacking cough, and red lesions that appear on the inside of the mouth. There is currently no proven treatment that can kill the virus that causes this illness. The best way to prevent it is to get the measles vaccine.

What Is Measles?

Measles is an infectious illness caused by a virus. Prior to the development of the measles vaccine, approximately 450,000 cases and 450 deaths due to measles were reported each year in the United States. Widespread vaccination has decreased these numbers by more than 99 percent. However, it is still a very common illness worldwide.
Measles is also known as rubeola.

Cause of Measles

The cause of the illness is an infection with the measles virus. The virus is a single-stranded RNA virus, from the family Paramyxovirus, of the genus Morbillivirus. The measles virus only infects humans.

How Is It Transmitted?

Measles is a highly contagious illness. It is spread by coughing and sneezing. If one person has measles, 90 percent of his or her susceptible close contacts will also become infected with the virus.
(Click Measles Transmission for more information.)

Incubation Period

When a person becomes infected with the virus, the virus begins to multiply within the cells that line the back of the throat and the lungs. After 8 to 12 days, on average, early measles symptoms can begin. This period between the transmission and the start of symptoms is called the measles incubation period.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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