Measles in adults: symptoms, causes, treatment

Ekaterina Morozova


Ekaterina Morozova

Experience 19 years

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that causes persistent immunity after being infected. This infection is most common in children aged 2-5 years. Measles in adults is quite rare. It occurs most often in people who have not been vaccinated.

The causative agent is a specific measles virus. There is no reinfection because of the development of persistent immunity. Because of that, one person may experience the symptoms and treatment of measles only once. Most often, this disease disappears in 1-2 weeks without any immunological disturbances.

Symptoms and signs of measles

The measles virus develops in the human body in several phases. First comes the incubation phase, which on average lasts about 7-14 days, in rare cases - 21 days. During this period, the symptoms of measles do not appear yet. They appear in the next phase, which is called the catarrhal one. At this phase, measles in adults causes these clinical signs:

  • general weakness and body aches;
  • runny nose with profuse discharge;
  • fever 38-40°C;
  • severe headache;
  • severe dry cough;
  • pain in the throat when swallowing;
  • inflammation of the mucous membranes of the eyes.

The catarrhal phase takes on average 5 days. After that, the signs of measles begin to decrease and the patient feels relief. But about one day later, the symptoms increase again and the well-being of the patient worsens. Then the next phase comes - the rash one. It looks like a maculopapular rash - the separate elements join together to form foci.

Spots first appear on the neck, head and upper chest and then spread throughout the torso. After 3 days, the rash begins to fade. This is the beginning of the recovery phase, when temperature and general well-being return to normal.

Causes and infectious ways

Measles is caused by the RNA-containing virus. It is transmitted from a sick person by airborne droplets. After contact with the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, the pathogen enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body. Any sick person is particularly dangerous in the first few days of infection.

Measles can be transmitted not only by direct contact with a sick person. Infection can occur even by simply entering a room where a sick person has recently been. Any infected person is not considered dangerous until the 5th day after the appearance of the rash.


In particularly severe cases or with untimely treatment, measles can be complicated by a secondary bacterial infection, called pneumonia. In adulthood, it can also cause the development of the following abnormalities:

  • meningitis;
  • meningoencephalitis;
  • polyneuritis;
  • corneal ulcers, keratitis;
  • hearing loss;
  • intra-abdominal lymph node damage.

The rarest and most dangerous complication is measles encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain. This is why timely vaccination against measles in adults is very important. The disease is more easily tolerated in childhood, but it can cause severe complications in adulthood.

When should you see a doctor?

Going to the clinic when you have measles is mandatory, because in adulthood there are serious risks of complications. You should see your doctor as soon as possible after the first signs of illness appear. Once the symptoms of measles have been recognised, a specialist can prescribe the appropriate treatment.

At JSC "Medicina" (Academician Roytberg Clinic) in the centre of Moscow you can consult a therapist or an infectious disease specialist if measles is suspected. They will also decide whether measles vaccination is necessary.

Measles diagnosis

During the early phase of the disease, a measles test is performed to detect immunoglobulins M (IgM). These are early antibodies that indicate the initial stage of the disease and also indicate that the body has already started to work against the virus.

This test shows an increase in IgM titre by a minimum of 4x. The first time it is prescribed at the appearance of characteristic signs of the disease, and the second time - 2-3 weeks later, to confirm the infection. Other procedures for the diagnosis of measles performed at JSC "Medicina" (Academician Roytberg Clinic) are:

  • serological blood test;
  • general urinalysis;
  • chest X-ray for complications.


Measles can be treated as an outpatient if the patient has no serious complications from the disease. Hospitalisation is necessary if the patient's condition is generally severe or if his/her isolation is impossible, for example, when living in a dormitory, military unit, etc. Treatment of measles is symptomatic only, i.e. the patient is prescribed medicines to ease the course of the disease:

  • antipyretics;
  • antiviral;
  • vasoconstrictors for the runny nose.

If any bacterial infection (otitis or pneumonia) occurs, the patient is prescribed some antibacterial medication. Pills taken orally are sufficiently effective in this case. Antibiotics are prescribed on the basis of analysis of the infectious agent to determine its sensitivity to specific medications.

Measles vaccination

The measles vaccine for adults is administered before the age of 35. Vaccination is mandatory regardless of age for people working with children. In general, vaccination is necessary because of the risk of serious complications in adulthood and because of the severe course of the infection.

The measles vaccine is supposed to provide a person with immunity for an average of 20 years. The vaccination is given twice within a 3-month interval. The modern measles vaccine has one, two or three components, i.e. it is given against one or more diseases: measles, measles-parotitis, measles-parotitis-rubella.

Home remedies

Home treatment of measles consists of bed rest for the entire febrile period. Doctors advise avoiding bright light and maintaining good oral and eye hygiene. A patient's room should be regularly ventilated and wet-cleaned twice a day. Such patients need a light diet that does not irritate the intestines. Vitamins A and C must be present in the diet.

Myths and dangerous treatment misconceptions

There are many myths and misconceptions around measles, which in one case or another have serious consequences. Among the most common myths are the following ones:

  • Measles hasn't been diagnosed for a long time. According to statistics, it is just the opposite. Outbreaks of the disease still occur in areas with low levels of medical development. Developed countries are not immune either.
  • Measles only affects children. Yes, 95% of patients are children under the age of 16, but there is no guarantee that an adult will not be infected with measles.
  • It is better to have measles in childhood. Many parents think it is better for their child to have measles and become immune to it than to get a vaccination. They think the infection is a harmless childhood illness like chickenpox. In reality, this is not the case at all. According to the WHO, measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children.
  • The vaccination does not work. This is also a misconception, which is confirmed by the WHO data. In 2000-2015, mass vaccination was able to reduce the number of cases worldwide by 75%.


There is no specific prophylaxis against measles. Even the most careful hygiene does not guarantee protection from this infection. The measles virus is highly contagious, easily transmitted from person to person and stays in the air for 2 hours. The most effective method of prevention is only timely vaccination.

How to make an appointment to see an infectious disease specialist or a therapist?

To make an appointment with a specialist, you can fill out an online form on the website where you will be offered to choose a doctor and an appointment time. Another way is to call our clinic which is located in the centre of Moscow by calling our contact number +7 (495) 126-22-97. We have several experienced specialists in our staff, so we work even at weekends and on holidays. JSC "Medicina" (Academician Roytberg Clinic) is located in the centre of Moscow, near different metro stations: "Mayakovskaya", "Chekhovskaya", "Novoslobodskaya", "Tverskaya" and "Belorusskaya".

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