Your doctor can usually diagnose measles based on the disease’s characteristic rash as well as a small, bluish-white spot on a bright red background (Koplik’s spot) on the inside lining of the cheek. However, many doctors have never seen measles, and the rash can be confused with a number of other illnesses. If necessary, a blood test can confirm whether the rash is truly measles.
There’s no specific treatment for an established measles infection. However, some measures can be taken to protect vulnerable individuals who have been exposed to the virus.
- Post-exposure vaccination. Nonimmunized people, including infants, may be given the measles vaccination within 72 hours of exposure to the measles virus to provide protection against the disease. If measles still develops, the illness usually has milder symptoms and lasts for a shorter time.
- Immune serum globulin. Pregnant women, infants and people with weakened immune systems who are exposed to the virus may receive an injection of proteins (antibodies) called immune serum globulin. When given within six days of exposure to the virus, these antibodies can prevent measles or make symptoms less severe.
- Fever reducers. You or your child may also take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Children’s Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve) to help relieve the fever that accompanies measles.Don’t give aspirin to children or teenagers who have measles symptoms. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
- Antibiotics. If a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia or an ear infection, develops while you or your child has measles, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
- Vitamin A. Children with low levels of vitamin A are more likely to have a more severe case of measles. Giving vitamin A may lessen the severity of the measles. It’s generally given as a large dose of 200,000 international units (IU) for children older than a year.