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What is Measles? (video)

Measles is a highly contagious but preventable disease

Measles is a highly contagious but preventable disease

Christen Benke, DO, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Del Mar, provides a quick look at measles, what it is, what it looks like and how to prevent this disease — which was once thought to have been eradicated, but has made a comeback in many parts of the United States. Dr. Benke explains the symptoms of measles, how to protect children through vaccination and what adults who aren’t sure if they’ve been vaccinated can do to protect themselves.

Video transcript

What is measles?

Measles is a virus that is spread via respiratory droplets like coughing and sneezing. Anyone who’s in close contact to a cough or a sneeze could contract the virus through their nose or their mouth.

What does measles look like?

The way to spot measles is by checking for fever, body aches, sore throat, runny nose, which are kind of the usual symptoms of getting sick. But the special features would be pink eye, redness of the eyes, and these little white spots inside the mouth called Koplik’s spots. They’re white with a little blue center, and they’re usually on a little reddish background. They’re inside the cheeks inside your mouth. If you see pink eye along with some spots in the mouth, and you’re also kind of coming down with fever and chills and such, that could be the sign of early measles.


The hallmark sign — which happens a couple of days later, three to five days later — is a blotchy red rash on the head, chest and back. That’s how we really know what we’re dealing with.

Who should get a measles vaccine?

Who should get the measles vaccine? First, we’ll start with children. Anyone that is one year of age should get their first shot. The booster is given right around pre-school age — ages four to six. Children should be vaccinated completely by the time they’re pre-school aged.


Adults are a little trickier. If you were born before 1957, we presume that you have immunity because the disease was circulating back then, and you were probably exposed just through normal day-to-day living.


If you were born after 1957, we had the vaccine, and we were administering it regularly to children. If you’re not sure if you had both shots as a child, or you don’t have any of your childhood records, you can call your doctor, and we can run a blood test called a titer. It’ll check for the antibodies. If your titer is up, then you have immunity. If your titer is down, we can give you a one-time booster shot of MMR vaccine.

Watch more Ask the Expert videos now for quick answers to common medical questions.

Vaccination recommendations for adults

Adults who are not sure they are immune to measles, should first try to find their vaccination records. If they do not have written documentation of measles immunity, they should get the MMR vaccine.


The CDC and the California Department of Public Health recommend the following immunization schedule:

Measles chart for adults who aren't sure if they are immune to measles.