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Measles (Rubeola) in Children: Care Instructions


Measles is a disease caused by a virus. It's also called rubeola. It’s one of the most contagious viruses in humans. It's spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The virus can travel through the air. This means that your child can get measles if your child is near someone who has the virus. This can happen even if that person doesn't cough or sneeze directly on your child. The virus can spread to others 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appears.

The first symptoms of measles show up about 7 to 18 days after contact with the virus. They include a high fever, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, and a cough. The lymph nodes in your child's neck may swell. Your child may feel very tired and have diarrhea and red, sore eyes. As these symptoms start to go away, your child may get tiny white spots inside their mouth, followed by a rash of flat, red spots. The rash usually starts 3 to 5 days after the first symptoms. It starts on the face and spreads down all over their body.

Care at home, such as rest, fluids, and pain relievers, is often the only treatment your child needs.

If your child has had measles, your child can't get it again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Measles can cause serious health problems, especially in children under 5 years of age. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

If your child needs medical care, it’s important to tell the doctor or nurses that your child has measles before going to a clinic or hospital. This is so they can take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading to others.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Your child should stay at home to avoid contact with people who have never had measles and who have not been immunized. Measles is very contagious. Your child can spread measles to others from 4 days before the rash appears to 4 days after the rash appears.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest to help the body heal.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Try to keep your child from scratching the rash.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.
  • Have your child rest their eyes often. If your child's eyes are sensitive to light, close the window blinds in the room, and limit the amount of time your child watches screens.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Symptoms may include:
    • Using the belly muscles to breathe.
    • The chest sinking in or the nostrils flaring when your child struggles to breathe.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child is confused.

Be sure to say that your child was diagnosed with measles. Measles is very contagious. The doctor may not want your child to be in contact with other patients. You will be given instructions on what is best for your child.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your child is sensitive to light or feels very sleepy.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child feels better, but their symptoms return.

Where can you learn more?

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