The Measles (Rubeola)


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a) Red bumps on a child’s face. B) Red spots inside the mouth. c) A micrograph of an oval structure containing a scale bar measuring 50 nanometers.
(a) Measles typically presents as a raised macular rash that begins on the face and spreads to the extremities. (b) Koplik’s spots on the oral mucosa are also characteristic of measles. (c) A thin-section transmission electron micrograph of a measles virion. (credit a, b, c: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

The measles virus (MeV) causes the highly contagious disease measles, also known as rubeola, which is a major cause of childhood mortality worldwide. Although vaccination efforts have greatly reduced the incidence of measles in much of the world, epidemics are still common in unvaccinated populations in certain countries.

The measles virus is a single-stranded, negative-strand RNA virus and, like the influenza virus, it possesses an envelope with spikes of embedded hemagglutinin. The infection is spread by direct contact with infectious secretions or inhalation of airborne droplets spread by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Measles is initially characterized by a high fever, conjunctivitis, and a sore throat. The virus then moves systemically through the bloodstream and causes a characteristic rash. The measles rash initially forms on the face and later spreads to the extremities. The red, raised macular rash will eventually become confluent and can last for several days. At the same time, extremely high fevers (higher than 40.6 °C [105 °F]) can occur. Another diagnostic sign of measles infections is Koplik’s spots, white spots that form on the inner lining of inflamed cheek tissues.

Although measles is usually self-limiting, it can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, and death. In addition, the inhibition of immune system cells by the measles virus predisposes patients to secondary infections. In severe infections with highly virulent strains, measles fatality rates can be as high as 10% to 15%. There were more than 145,000 measles deaths (mostly young children) worldwide in 2013.

The preliminary diagnosis of measles is typically based on the appearance of the rash and Koplik’s spots. Hemagglutination inhibition tests and serological tests may be used to confirm measles infections in low-prevalence settings.

There are no effective treatments for measles. Vaccination is widespread in developed countries as part of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. As a result, there are typically fewer than 200 cases of measles in the United States annually. When it is seen, it is often associated with children who have not been vaccinated.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: