How Measles Spreads

Key points

  • Measles is highly contagious.
  • Measles can live for up to 2 hours in an airspace after an infected person leaves an area.
  • Call your doctor immediately if you think you or your child have been exposed.
two girls blowing their noses

Common ways it spreads

Contact with an infected person

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing.

illustration: person coughing on another person
Measles can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Contact with air droplets

If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.

illustration: germs floating near a lamp and dresser
The virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace.

Only humans spread measles‎

Measles is only spread from person to person. Animals do not get nor spread measles.

When you are contagious

If you have measles, up to 90% of the people close to you, who are not immune, will also become infected.

An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing they have the disease. You can spread measles to others from 4 days before through 4 days after the rash appears.