Highly contagious infection eliminated in the U.S. due to vaccinations

Measles is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus. Once common in childhood, it has been mostly eliminated in the United States because of vaccinations. However, there are still a small number of cases in the U.S. every year, usually originating outside of the country and affecting people in the U.S. who have not been vaccinated.

Measles, also called rubeola, is recognizable by the red spots and rash that can spread all over the body. If you are unvaccinated, you can get measles when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and respiratory droplets in the air make their way to your own nose or throat. The infection is also spread from sharing food or drinks with an infected person. Although infection may happen very quickly, it usually takes a week to 18 days for symptoms to show up.

In unvaccinated people, symptoms of measles may include:

  • Cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • White spots in the mouth on the inside of the cheek

The condition is easily diagnosed because of the telltale signs of spots and rash. In some cases, the doctor may order a blood test as well.

There is no specific treatment for measles other than plenty of rest and pain-relieving medication such as Tylenol. Humidified air may also help relieve discomfort.

The best prevention for measles is vaccination, which is commonly given in the United States in early childhood as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine or the MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, varicella/chickenpox) vaccine, and later as a booster. Once you are vaccinated for measles, you cannot get it from anyone. Also, if you were born before 1957 and you had measles, you cannot get it again.

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