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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Measles in Babies

A case of measles can be scary! Here’s what to do to prevent and treat baby’s measles.

What is measles in babies?

Measles, also called rubeola, is a potentially fatal disease that’s caused by a virus. It’s best known for causing a rash, but measles can also go to the lungs and central nervous system. Before widespread vaccination programs, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million worldwide deaths per year.

What are the symptoms of measles in babies?

At first, measles may look like a common cold. A fever, cough, runny nose and muscle aches are often the first signs of illness. A couple of days later, tiny white spots with bluish-white centers may appear on the inside of the mouth. The rash — a blotchy, red rash that typically begins at the hairline and spreads down the body — shows up a few days later.

Are there any tests for measles in babies?

Measles is usually diagnosed based on baby’s symptoms. But if there’s any question, your doctor can also order a blood test to check for the virus that causes measles.

How common is measles in babies?

Measles used to be a childhood rite of passage. But widespread vaccination virtually eliminated the disease in the US by 1980 — until some parents skipped the measles vaccine because of safety concerns. It’s important to note that a possible link between the measles vaccine and autism has been disproven, but some parents still decline measles vaccinations for their children. As a result, some states are seeing measles outbreaks. In 2009, 71 cases of measles were recorded in the US.

How did my baby get measles?

Measles is spread through the air via coughs, sneezes and just simply breathing. “Measles is probably the most contagious pathogen that we know,” says Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. “Put somebody with measles in a room with 100 individuals who have never been vaccinated, and all of them will get measles. It’s a very contagious disease.”

What’s the best way to treat measles in babies?

There’s no “cure” for measles. The virus needs to run its course; symptoms will likely last about two weeks. Supportive care — acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever, aches and pains; rest; and fluids — may make your child feel better. Antibiotics may be given if measles leads to bacterial pneumonia.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting measles?

Get your child vaccinated. The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is highly effective and not related to autism. In fact, the research study that initially suggested the measles vaccine/autism link was retracted by the journal that published it.

What do other moms do when their babies have measles?

“The day before her first birthday, my daughter got a super-high fever, and the doctor confirmed that she has tonsillitis, so she got antibiotics and other medication. Her actual birthday (Thursday) was awful because she was crying the whole time because of the pain and discomfort. She took one look at her cake and was not interested at all… We basically spent the day holding her and managing her fevers… By Friday, she seemed a lot better, so we decided not to cancel her party for the next day… There were about six babies about a year old and 10 kids between the ages of three and seven. The party itself was very cute, and my daughter loved it when we sang “Happy Birthday” to her… Later that afternoon, back at home, she started getting a fever again, and I noticed small red spots on her tummy and neck. Took her to the doc the next day, and guess what? Measles! WTF? And she got vaccinated against it! So I had to text all the moms warning them about the ‘extra little party favor’ their kids might have gotten in their party packs. I felt like such a bad mother! If I’d known she had measles, I would’ve definitely canceled the party!”

Are there any other resources for measles in babies?

The Bump expert: Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas