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Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Measles can be a very serious disease and can cause hospitalizations, serious health complications and even death.

Before the measles vaccination program started in the United States in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people in the country got measles each year. Of the reported cases of measles each year prior to introduction of the vaccine, 48,000 were hospitalized and nearly 500 died. Since then, widespread use of the measles vaccine has resulted in a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases and deaths compared to the pre-vaccine era.

Symptoms and Treatment

Measles symptoms typically appear 7 to 14 days after contact with an infected individual and include high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. The first symptom is usually fever, followed by a rash 2 to 4 days later. The rash typically begins on the face and neck and then spreads downward to the body, arms and legs. There is no specific antiviral therapy for measles. Medical care is supportive and helps relieve symptoms and address potential complications such as bacterial infections.


Measles can be prevented with measles-containing vaccine, which is primarily administered as the combination measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine in childhood. Two doses of the MMR vaccine in childhood are about 97% effective at preventing measles. To prevent measles outbreaks, ensuring that you are fully vaccinated against the virus before traveling internationally is also essential. Education about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines also plays an important role in disease prevention.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

IDSA Engagement 

IDSA supports public policy, advocacy and education efforts that control measles. We are committed to helping parents understand that the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella is safe, effective and vital to public health.


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