About Measles

Measles is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus. Measles spreads through direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected persons, or through droplets suspended in the air when a person sneezes or coughs. Measles typically starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat, and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body.

How is it transmitted?

Measles can spread when sick individuals cough or sneeze. People may also contract measles by touching their mouth or nose after touching something contaminated with the virus (e.g. doorknobs, tables, cups, an infected person’s hand, etc.). The virus can live on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours and spreads so easily that people who are not immune will probably get infected when they come in close contact with someone who has measles.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of measles generally appear about 7-14 days after a person is infected. These symptoms include high fever (103-104°), cough, running nose, and red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis). About 2-3 days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots with bluish-white centers (Koplik’s spots) may appear inside the mouth. About 3-5 days after symptoms begin, a blotchy rash typically appears on the face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. The rash fades and fever subsides within a few days.


Currently, there is no treatment for measles other than supportive care through relief of symptoms (e.g. pain management). People with suspected measles should stay at home and away from others for at least 4 days from the onset of the rash. This is an important prevention strategy to avoid the spread of measles.


Vaccination is the most effective way to protect oneself against measles. Although measles is part of the required immunizations for Penn students, one may still be exposed to the disease through contact with unvaccinated individuals. The easiest thing for students to do is to get the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, if they have not already received it.

If you think you have measles or have been in close contact with someone who has confirmed measles, please contact Student Health Service 215-746-3535 and select the option to speak with a nurse.

Practice good hygiene:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow
  • Self-isolate if you suspect you have measles
  • Don’t share drinks or eating utensils.
  • Regularly cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched (such as toys, doorknobs, tables, counters) with soap and water or with cleaning wipes.




Back to Disease Updates

(updated 2/6/2019)