About 8 to 12 days after being infected with the measles virus, a person may begin to develop signs and symptoms. Some early symptoms of measles include high fever, hacking cough, and red, watery eyes. Approximately 20 percent of people with measles will develop one or more complications associated with the disease.
When a person becomes infected with the measles virus, it 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. The period between the measles transmission and the start of symptoms is called the measles incubation period.
Early measles symptoms can include:
- High fever (up to 105°F or 40.6°C)
- Muscle and body aches
- Red, watery eyes (pink eye)
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Hacking cough
- Runny nose.
These early symptoms of measles usually last three to four days, although they can last as little as one day or as long as eight days, before the measles rash begins.
One to two days before the rash appears, small red lesions with blue-white centers (known as Koplik's spots) appear on the inside of the mouth and tongue, and occasionally on the whites of the eyes or inside the intestines.
The early symptoms of measles usually disappear one to two days after the rash appears, although the cough may continue until all symptoms are gone.
The measles rash is red and blotchy, and usually appears about 14 days after exposure to the virus. It lasts five to six days (see Pictures of Measles). It begins at the hairline, then moves to the face and upper neck. Over the next three days, the rash gradually moves downward and outward, reaching the hands and feet. It will stay in an area for about three days and then fade. It fades in the same order that the rash first appeared. As the rash disappears, a brown discoloration of the skin may be noticed.