Measles (also known as rubeola and hard measles) is a highly communicable viral disease characterized by fever, cough, coryza (inflammation of the mucus membranes of the nose), conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye), and a maculopapular (red area on the skin with raised bumps) rash. It usually occurs in people who have not had the disease before or who have not had the vaccine for it.

Measles is reportable to the Iowa Department of Public Health by Iowa Administrative Code 641 IAC 1 .


Signs and symptoms begin to appear about 7-18 days after being infected. The rash usually appears about 14 days after being infected.

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever (higher than 101° F)
  • Rash (flat red areas all over the body, with raised bumps )
  • Koplik spots (small spots with white or bluish-white centers on the inside of the cheeks)

Symptoms usually worsen for several days and may lead to the following complications:

  • Pneumonia
  • Swelling in the brain
  • Middle ear infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Death


Measles is caused by breathing in a virus carried on droplets from other people’s coughs and sneezes and less commonly from objects recently contaminated with infected droplets. Measles is one of the most contagious infections known to exist. People can spread measles for several days before they get the rash until several days after the rash develops.

Risk Factors

It is routine for children to be vaccinated against measles at 12 months and 4 years of age. Those who have not had these two doses of vaccine are at risk for measles. People born before 1957 likely had measles as children and less likely to able to catch measles, but being vaccinated is a good way to be sure. Measles vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines used today.


  • The best way to prevent measles is to get vaccinated with a measles containing vaccine. To view the childhood immunization schedule visit CDC’s Immunization Schedules.
  • It is recommended that measles vaccine is given at 12 months and 4 years of age. Usually it is combined with the mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR). These two doses of vaccine are very effective at preventing measles infection throughout life.
  • Measles vaccine is required for entry into Iowa public and private schools, as well as licensed child care centers and preschools. Following the Iowa requirements on immunization greatly reduces the risk of children catching measles.
  • A person is thought to have measles will usually be isolated (kept away from other people or public places) for a period of time. Those people who have been exposed to measles and are thought may get sick may be quarantined (kept away from other people until laboratory testing confirms the absence of disease or symptoms fail to present).


No treatment can get rid of measles once it is established. However, there are actions that can be taken to protect those who have been recently exposed.

  • Immune globulin (IG) is sometimes used to treat someone who has been exposed and thought to likely get sick. If given within six days of exposure IG can either prevent the disease or make the symptoms less severe.
  • Measles vaccine can be given to unvaccinated people within 72 hours of exposure. The vaccine will either prevent the disease or make symptoms less severe.


There were no cases of measles reported to IDPH in 2016. The last confirmed case in Iowa was in 2011.    

For more detailed information and statistics on all notifiable diseases, please see our current annual report.

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Evaluating Patients for Possible Measles Infographic

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