Measles | The Eye ProfessionalsWhat Is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. It usually begins its attack on the respiratory tract and then spreads to other areas...including the eyes.  

Measles symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after infection with the virus. Symptoms begin with a high fever, and may include, cough, runny nose, generalized body aches, and red, watery eyes.

The most recognizable symptom of measles is a body rash which begins three to five days after the other symptoms. The rash usually starts as flat, red spots on the face that spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet.


Measles is caused by infection with the Rubeola virus. Scientists have identified 21 strains of the Rubeola virus. The infection with the Rubeola virus occurs in stages during a two-to-three week period. For the first 10 to 14 days after infection, the virus incubates and there are no signs or symptoms of disease during this incubation phase.  

Communicable Period

Because it is highly contagious, measles can be spread in several ways, such as when an infected person doesn’t cover coughs or sneezes. An uncovered cough or sneeze from someone infected with the Rubeola virus sends virus particles into the air that can land on surfaces and other people.

The virus can remain active on objects for two hours after being touched or coughed or sneezed on by a person infected with the virus.

A person infected with the Rubeola virus can spread it to others for about eight days—starting four days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been present for four days.

Complications—The Reason Measles Can be Dangerous

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles can be serious in all age groups, but children younger than five and adults older than 20 and people with weakened immune systems from HIV, leukemia, or a vitamin deficiency are more likely to have measles complications.  

Common complications are ear infections and diarrhea.  Severe complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis can occur and require hospitalization.

According to CDC statistics:

  • As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia and it is the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
  • About one child out of every 1,000 children who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
  • For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.

Complications that are very rare, but possible include:

  • Neuritis, an infection of the optic nerve that can lead to vision loss
  • Heart complications
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a very rare, but fatal disease of the central nervous system that results from a measles virus infection acquired earlier in life. SSPE generally develops 7 to 10 years after a person has measles, even though the person seems to have fully recovered from the illness
  • Other nervous system complications include transverse myelitis, and ascending myelitis—inflammation and damage to the myelin (insulating material covering nerve cell fibers) of the spinal cord.


There is no treatment for measles except resting and drinking enough fluid to prevent dehydration. Once infected, the disease has to run its course, but complications should be treated promptly. Measles is a viral infection, so antibiotics won’t help.


The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a safe and effective means of preventing measles, mumps, and rubella.  The World Health Organization estimated that during 2000 to 2017 the MMR vaccination prevented 21.1 million deaths.