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Measles - Symptoms of measles

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The initial symptoms of measles appear around 10 days after you get the measles infection and generally last for up to 14 days. The measles rash usually appears a few days afterwards.

The initial symptoms of measles include:

  • cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, watery eyes, swollen eyelids and sneezing
  • red eyes and sensitivity to light
  • a mild to severe temperature, which may peak at over 40.6C (105F) for several days, then fall but go up again when the rash appears
  • tiny greyish-white spots (called Koplik's spots) in the mouth and throat
  • tiredness, irritability and general lack of energy
  • aches and pains
  • poor appetite
  • dry cough
  • red-brown spotty rash (see below)


The measles rash appears two to four days after initial symptoms and lasts for up to eight days. The spots usually start behind the ears, spread around the head and neck, then spread to the legs and the rest of the body.

The spots are initially small but quickly get bigger and often join together. Similar-looking rashes may be mistaken for measles, but measles has a range of other symptoms too, not just a rash.

Look at our childhood conditions slideshow to see what the measles rash looks like.

Most childhood rashes are not measles, but see your GP without delay if:

  • You suspect it is measles.
  • Your symptoms worsen.
  • Your temperature increases to above 38C (100.4F).
  • Your temperature stays high after other symptoms have gone.
  • There are signs of other related illnesses or complications of measles.

Diagnosing measles

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose measles from the combination of symptoms, such as the characteristic rash and the small spots inside the mouth.

A simple saliva or blood test can confirm the diagnosis and identify the rubeola virus.

Doctors have a duty to notify Public Health England of all reported and suspected cases of measles. They will also notify the child's school if necessary.

Your child should not return to school until at least five days after the appearance of the rash.

Medical Review: February 15, 2012
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