Measles begins with a high fever that lasts for a couple of days, with temperatures reaching as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 degrees Celsius).
Other symptoms include a hacking cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (also called pink eye), which is characterised by sore, red eyes which are sensitive to light. A rash starts on the face and upper neck, spreads down the back and trunk, and then extends to the arms and hands, as well as the legs and feet. After about five days, the rash fades in the same order that it appeared, face first and feet last.
As the rash disappears, the healing skin may look brown temporarily, before it sheds in a finely textured peel.
One special identifying sign of measles is Koplik’s spots. These are small, red, irregularly-shaped spots with blue-white centres found inside the mouth. Koplik’s spots usually appear 1 to 2 days before the measles rash and may be noticed by a doctor looking for the cause of a child’s fever and cough.
Measles itself is unpleasant, but the many complications it can cause are dangerous.
Serious (but rare) complications can result from measles, such as croup, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, diarrhoea, pneumonia, conjunctivitis, myocarditis, hepatitis, and brain inflammation (encephalitis). Immediate medical treatment should be obtained if there is any sign of these occurring.
Measles can also make the body more susceptible to other diseases, such as ear infections or pneumonias caused by bacteria.
The disease can be severe, with bronchopneumonia or brain inflammation (encephalitis) and other complications leading to death in approximately 2 of every 1,000 (0.2%) cases in developed countries. In the developing world, fatality rates are much higher and often exceed 150 deaths per 1,000 cases (15%).