Although most people in the United States are vaccinated against the measles and cannot contract it, outbreaks do continue to occur, particularly where there are groups of people who have not had the vaccine. Measles is easily spotted by a telltale rash, but that is one of the last symptoms to appear. Those affected easily transmit the virus to others who are not vaccinated. In part, this is because measles is contagious from four days before the first symptoms begin until four days after the rash breaks out.
The first symptom, a mild fever of roughly 100 degrees F, is normally the first symptom of measles that appears 10 to 12 days after your exposure to the virus, according to the State of Utah Office of Epidemiology. The fever continues to rise until it peaks on the fourth day at roughly 104 to 105 degrees F. High fevers may cause seizures, particularly in children from 6 months to 5 years old. On day five, the fever begins to go down, although a low-grade fever may persist for up to 10 days.
Cold and Flu Symptoms
Symptoms of the common cold or flu often follow the onset of the fever and include a cough, runny nose, sore throat and a general feeling of malaise or being tired and run down. Some patients also experience diarrhea and earaches. Those affected with the virus may also contract conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye. The Cleveland Clinic describes conjunctivitis as a contagious inflammation of the tissue inside of the eyelid that normally keeps the eyeball and eyelid from becoming dry. Although most of these symptoms last only for three to four days, the cough may persist for up to 10 days.
After the onset of the cold and flu symptoms but normally one to two days before the rash appears, a patient often experiences a rash inside his mouth known as Koplik spots. The rash presents as white bumps on the inside of the cheeks. The rash usually disappears in two to three days.
A red, blotchy rash that covers most of the body is the hallmark of measles. Three to five days after the first symptoms appear, the rash sets in. It usually starts at the hairline before moving to the neck and face. Over the course of the next five days, the rash moves from the neck down to the torso and, finally, the extremities, although the hands and feet normally develop a mild or no rash. As the rash fades, it disappears from the extremities first, then the torso and finally the head and neck.