We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

How Do I Recognize a Measles Rash?

By Joanna White
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A rash is usually just one of the many symptoms of measles, and recognizing it is often as much about seeing all the symptoms in sum as it is about identifying particular characteristics. All people, and especially children, develop rashes for a range of reasons, some more serious than others. In most cases the most distinguishing characteristic of a measles rash is that it appears a few days after other measles symptoms, particularly a sustained spiked fever; a cough, often paired with a runny nose; and itchy, watery eyes. The rash itself normally begins at the scalp or on the face, and normally presents as small red bumps at first. These have a tendency to spread, and within a few days — and in some cases in as little as a few hours — the bumps will grow and spread to cover the neck, chest, and torso, and will normally extend down the arms and legs as well. In general anyone who suspects that a rash is related to measles is advised to seek prompt medical care, both to speed recovery and to prevent spread of the disease to others as measles is highly contagious.

Understanding the Illness Generally

Measles is typically a childhood illness caused by the morbillivirus that lives in the mouth and nose of infected children. The virus is released into the air when the child coughs or sneezes and, as such, is highly contagious. The incubation period, which is to say, the time between a person being exposed to the virus and developing symptoms, is normally anywhere from 10 to 14 days. Although outbreaks are less common in most places today as a result of widespread vaccination programs, they still happen, and those who have not been vaccinated, a class which includes most infants, are at particular risk.

Complications from measles include pneumonia and encephalitis and can be quite serious. Knowing the symptoms, including recognizing the rash, can be very important tools when it comes to getting prompt treatment. In many cases there is no specific treatment aside from letting the illness run its course and making sure the patient is taking in adequate fluids. Most adults and older children will make a full recovery, but the same isn’t always true for the very young; in children under the age of 5, the illness is often fatal, particularly if it develops into something else. In these cases prompt hospitalization is usually crucial.

Rash Beginnings

A rash usually starts appearing about two weeks after a patient has been exposed to the virus. One of the earliest indications of measles is usually the development of Koplik spots, tiny blue-white dots surrounded by red inside the mouth and on the insides of the cheeks. These spots are often thought to be the true beginnings of the rash, or at least a precursor to it. Flat red bumps typically start appearing on the skin near the ears and at the hairline about the time the Koplik spots are fading.

Spreading and Growth

From one to two days after the rash first appears near the hairline, it may spread to the torso and limbs, even as it starts to disappear from the face. The measles rash can be mildly itchy. The patient is generally infectious from a few days prior to the rash's appearance until a few days after, and it is at this point that the rash also begins fading.

It’s important to realize that a rash is not the first sign of measles, or even the best way to diagnose the illness. Patients normally feel unwell for several days before the rash ever appears; most have a very high temperature paired with a runny nose, a cough, and usually also watery eyes. A rash can confirm suspicions of measles, but isn’t usually itself enough to make a diagnosis.

German Measles Variations

A related illness known as German measles, caused by the Rubella virus, is contracted the same way as the more standard measles virus and has an incubation period from 12 to 23 days. When it comes to diagnosing German measles, one of the most reliable symptoms is the swollen lymph glands around the hairline, behind the ears. A child with German measles will also have a sore throat, runny nose, a slight fever and a rash. A German measles rash involves small pink dots that rapidly spread over the body, especially the torso. Although this rash resembles the measles rash, there is less of it and in most cases it goes away faster.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By fify — On Oct 31, 2013

His mother thought that it was a heat rash but I knew right away that my nephew had measles when I saw his rash. It looked like he had hundreds of pink and red spots all over him, like he was attacked by bees or something. My daughter had measles when she was young too and she had the same rash.

By literally45 — On Oct 30, 2013

@donasmrs-- It will take at least seven days to start seeing symptoms of measles and it will take another few days to see a rash. If your son was exposed to measles this week, he wouldn't get symptoms until next week or maybe the week after.

Is the rash on his face as well? Measles rash will affect the head and face first and then it will move down to the torso and the rest of the body.

It actually doesn't sound like he has measles. If he's vaccinated, he's protected anyway. It's very rare to be vaccinated against measles and still get infected. There are many other viral infections that can cause fever and rash.

By donasmrs — On Oct 30, 2013

My son has fever and a rash on his chest. He told me that there was a student with measles at his school this week. Could it be measles?

He has been vaccinated for measles, but I heard that sometimes, the vaccine doesn't work.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.