How to Treat Measles

Two Methods:Easing SymptomsPreventing the Disease's Spread

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease which usually causes a full-body rash and respiratory inflammation. There is no cure for measles, but since the development of a vaccine in the 1960s, it has become relatively easy to prevent.[1] In the event that measles is contracted, the best treatment plan involves plenty of rest and the attention of a trained medical professional. It's also wise to treat the symptoms, which can include a high fever, rash, and persistent cough, to make recovery easier.

Method 1
Easing Symptoms

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    Contact a doctor immediately. As soon as you think that you or someone you know may have measles (see: How to Diagnose Measles), make an appointment with your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis. Describe your symptoms and try to schedule your appointment as soon as possible. Follow any instructions given by the doctor.
    • These will almost always include a recommendation to stay home and avoid contact with other people. Measles is very contagious, so isolation is key to preventing an outbreak. Read "Preventing the Disease's Spread", below, for quarantine strategies.
    • Be aware that your doctor may ask you to take special precautions when you come to the office, like wearing a mask or using a back entrance, to prevent the spread of measles.[2]
    • The rest of the instructions in this article are not intended to replace the guidance of a doctor or a trained medical professional. When in doubt, always defer to your doctor's advice.
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    Bring the fever down with over the counter medication. Measles is often accompanied with a fever that can peak at 104°F (40°C).[3] Use over the counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (paracetamol) to help keep your temperature at a manageable level. Follow the directions on the bottle for the correct dosage and timing.
    • As an added bonus, these pain medicines will also help to relieve the aches and pains associated with the measles virus.
    • Note: Do not give aspirin to children due to the risk of the deadly Reyes' syndrome, a rare condition that can cause serious conditions in the liver and brain.[4]
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    Rest. Almost everyone who gets measles will require plenty of rest to recover. Measles is a serious viral infection that takes much of your body's energy and resources to fight. On top of this, the symptoms of measles can leave you feeling more drained and fatigued than you normally would. Be sure to allow for plenty of sleep and restrict all physical activities while you are sick.
    • Many sources recommend a week or more of "time off" after the rash first develops, especially for children.[5]
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    Keep the lights dim. The facial rash that causes measles can produce conjunctivitis — a condition involving inflamed, watery eyes.[6] This can make people with measles sensitive to light. Use heavy curtains on windows and keep overhead lighting dim when suffering from conjunctivitis to ease your irritated eyes.
    • While you won't generally want to leave your house when you have measles, if, for some reason, you are forced to, try using a pair of shades to protect your eyes.
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    Keep the eyes clean with gentle cotton swabs. As noted above, the eye condition conjunctivitis often accompanies measles. One of the most noticeable symptoms of conjunctivitis is an increased production of discharge in the eyes. This discharge can cause the eyes to become "crusty" or even stuck shut (especially after sleeping.) Remove the crustiness from the eyes by dipping a cotton ball in clean, warm water and wiping from the corner of the eye outward. Use a separate piece of cotton for each eye.
    • Press very gently when you are cleaning your eyes — since your eyes are already inflamed, they will be extra-sensitive to pain and damage.
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    Run a humidifier. Humidifiers increase the amount of moisture in the air by evaporating water to create vapor. Running a humidifier in the room with you while you are sick will keep the air moist, which can help soothe the sore throat and cough that accompany the measles virus.
    • If a humidifier is not available, just place a large bowl of water in the room to increase the ambient humidity.
    • Note that some humidifiers allow you to add a medicated inhalant to the water vapor. If your humidifier lets you do this, pick a cough suppressant, like Vick's.
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    Hydrate. Like many illnesses, measles drains your body's supply of moisture faster than it normally would deplete, especially if you have a fever.[7] For this reason, it' very important to stay well-hydrated to keep the body strong enough to fight the infection until you feel better. As a general rule, clear fluids, especially clean, clear water, are best for sick people.

Method 2
Preventing the Disease's Spread

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    Get a vaccine if you have not had one. By far the quickest and easiest way to prevent the spread of measles is for every person who can safely get the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to do so. The MMR vaccine is 95-99% effective at preventing infection and almost always gives immunity for life.[8] Healthy people are generally able to receive the vaccine after they are about 15 months old, making vaccination a must for most families.
    • Like any vaccine, the MMR vaccine can have some side effects, though serious side effects from the measles vaccine are very rare. The measles virus itself is much more dangerous than any of these side effects. The side effects include:[9]
    • Mild fever
    • Rash
    • Swelling of lymph nodes
    • Sore or stiff joints
    • Very rarely, seizure or allergic reaction.
    • The MMR vaccine is not known to cause autism — a study from the 1980s that pointed to this possibility has since been discredited.[10]
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    Quarantine the infected person. Because the disease is highly contagious, a person with measles should be kept away from other people with very few exceptions. Infected people should not leave the house except for medical emergencies. School and work are out of the question — a single case can disable an entire office for more than a week if allowed to spread. Infected people should stay at home as long as needed to stop being contagious. Since this usually happens about four days after the rash forms, it's wise to plan for a week or more of absence.[11]
    • Be aware that it is unsafe for un-vaccinated people to even be somewhere that a person with measles has been recently. Measles virus can remain in tiny droplets in the air for up to two hours after someone with measles leaves the area.[12]
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    Keep at-risk people far away from the infected person. An effective quarantine is extremely important for the safety of certain types of people who are especially vulnerable to the virus. While measles is usually a prolonged inconvenience for healthy people, it can be a serious health risk for these at-risk populations, which include:[13]
    • Children who are too young to get the vaccine
    • Young children and infants in general
    • Pregnant women
    • The elderly
    • People who have an impaired immune system (due to HIV, etc.)
    • People suffering from a chronic disease
    • People suffering from malnutrition (especially vitamin A deficiency)
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    Use a mask when contact is inevitable. As noted above, people with measles should come into contact with other people as little as possible — ideally, not at all. However, in situations where contact can't be avoided (such as when an infected person requires a caretaker or needs to receive emergency medical treatment), wearing a surgical mask can reduce the chance of infection.[14] The infected person, the people s/he is coming into contact with, or both may wear masks.
    • Masks are somewhat effective because the measles virus transmits itself via tiny droplets of water that are thrown into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.[15] Thus, putting a physical barrier between the lungs of an infected person and the lungs of a healthy person can help prevent infection. However, a mask is not a substitute for proper quarantine.
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    See a doctor immediately if you notice serious symptoms. As noted above, measles is usually not a serious health threat to healthy people. However, in rare cases (and in cases when measles infects someone with a compromised immune system), the disease can be much more serious — even sometimes lethal: in 2013, over 140,000 people died of measles globally (mostly un-vaccinated children).[16] In the rare event that someone infected with measles begins to exhibit symptoms beyond the ordinary ones described above, rapid medical care is necessary. These include:[17]
    • Severe diarrhea
    • Serious ear infections
    • Pneumonia
    • Impaired vision/blindness
    • Encephalitis (seizures, confusion, headache, paralysis, hallucination)[18]
    • In general, a rapidly-declining overall physical state that shows no sign of improvement


  • Wear long sleeves to prevent scratching.
  • The MMR vaccine has some side effects. For example, about 1 in 6 children develop a fever 7 to 12 days after immunization, and about 1 in 3,000 develop febrile seizures.13 Some parents think that MMR is unsafe because it has some adverse effects, but this is not the case. These side effects, most of which are benign, are acknowledged by members of the medical profession. The benefits of MMR far outweigh the risks of these recognized side effects. The vaccine has an excellent safety record. Hundreds of millions of children have safely received the vaccine worldwide.
  • Calamine Lotion can be used to help prevent itching from the measles rash.
  • It is important that children receive the MMR vaccine. Without a high uptake of the measles component of the vaccination, the possibility of outbreaks of measles increases. Because 1 in 1,000 cases of measles is associated with encephalitis, the risk of this potentially deadly infection in children is also increased.


  • Do not give cough medicine to children younger than 6 years old. Do not give aspirin to children younger than 16 years old. Consult a doctor if there are questions about what medications to give someone suffering from measles.
  • If symptoms get worse or do not improve in 5 days, go to the hospital or follow up with a physician.

Things You'll Need

  • Doctor
  • Pain relievers
  • Curtains
  • Humidifier or bowl of water
  • Cotton
  • Water and other fluids

Article Info

Categories: Infectious Diseases