Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. The disease of measles and the virus that causes it share the same name. The disease is also called rubeola. Measles virus normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. Measles spreads through the air by breathing, coughing or sneezing.The symptoms of measles generally begin about 7-14 days after a person is infected, and include: blotchy rash, fever, cough, runny nose, red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis), feeling run down, achy (malaise), tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth (Koplik’s spots).Three to five days after the start of symptoms, a red or reddish-brown rash appears. The rash usually begins on a person’s face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.Measles is highly contagious and can be spread to others from four days before to four days after the rash appears. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected with the measles virus.The virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat of the infected person. When that person sneezes or coughs, droplets spray into the air. The droplets can get into other people’s noses or throats when they breathe or put their fingers in their mouth or nose after touching an infected surface. The virus can live on infected surfaces for up to two hours and spreads so easily that people who are not immune will probably get it when they come close to someone who is infected. Measles is a disease of humans; measles virus is not spread by any other animal species.About 30% of measles cases develop one or more complications, including: pneumonia, which is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children. Ear infections occur in about one in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result, and diarrhea is reported in about 8% of cases. These complications are more common among children under five years of age and adults over 20 years old.Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and about one child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis. (This is an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or mentally retarded.) For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it. Measles also can make a pregnant woman have a miscarriage, give birth prematurely or have a low-birth-weight baby. Measles can be prevented with measles-containing vaccine, which is primarily administered as the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The combination measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine can be used for children aged 12 months through 12 years for protection against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. Single-antigen measles vaccine is not available.CDC recommends routine childhood immunization for MMR vaccine starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at four through six years of age or at least 28 days following the first dose.Students at post-high school educational institutions without evidence of measles immunity need two doses of MMR vaccine, with the second dose administered no earlier than 28 days after the first dose.People who are born during or after 1957 who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine.People six months of age or older who will be traveling internationally should be protected against measles. Before travelling internationally, infants six through 11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR vaccine and children 12 months of age or older should have documentation of two doses of MMR vaccine (the first dose of MMR vaccine should be administered at age 12 months or older; the second dose no earlier than 28 days after the first dose. Adults born during or after 1957 without evidence of immunity against measles should have documentation of two doses of MMR vaccine, with the second dose administered no earlier than 28 days after the first doseThere are still sporadic cases of measles in the United States because visitors from other countries or US citizens traveling abroad can become infected before or during travel and spread the infection to unvaccinated or unprotected persons.For more information, call the Sweetwater-Nolan County Health Department or go to http://www.cdc.gov and search for measles.This is the first of a series of articles on diseases to run each month for the next year.