First Symptoms of Measles in Toddlers

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Measles, also known as rubeola, a highly contagious airborne virus that at one time infected nearly everyone in America, now occurs only rarely in the United States. Symptoms of measles occur in stages, over a period of around four days. See your pediatrician for an accurate diagnosis if you suspect your toddler may have measles.

Cold Symptoms

The first symptoms of measles in a toddler seem like cold symptoms, and last around four days. Runny nose, cough, sore throat, malaise and fatigue may all occur. A toddler may be unable to explain that he isn’t feeling well, but may be cranky, lose his appetite, and sleep more than normal. Some toddlers develop reddened eyes, called conjunctivitis, and light sensitivity.


Mild or moderate fever appears sometime during the first four days of symptoms in toddlers, and lasts until after the rash appears. As the rash appears, the fever spikes, going as high as 105 degrees F. The fever begins to subside as the rash spreads.

Koplik's Spots

Koplik’s spots appear in a toddler’s mouth two or three days after the cold symptoms appear, before the rash occurs. Small white spots with bluish centers on a red background, are the hallmark sign of measles. Koplik’s spots start at the back of the inside of the cheek and spread to cover most of the inside of the cheek and lower lip.


The measles rash appears around day four of illness in the toddler. The reddish-brown rash appears first behind the ears and in the hairline around the forehead, then spreads from the head down over the next three days. The face, neck, trunk, extremities and buttocks are affected by the rash, which may start out as individual spots and then blend together. The rash may be slightly itchy. Measles is contagious four days before until four days after a measles rash appears.