Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Child and paediatrician with a phial of MMR vaccine - measles

Child and paediatrician with a phial of MMR vaccine - measles
beginning of content


3-minute read

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that is spread from person to person through droplets in the air. It can be very unpleasant and often leads to serious complications.

Anyone can get measles if they haven’t had the disease before, although it’s much more common in those who have not been vaccinated.

Measles is a vaccine preventable disease and vaccination against the disease is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation.

Measles symptoms

Early symptoms of measles include fever, cough, feeling tired, a sore throat, runny nose, discomfort looking at light and sore, watery eyes. A rash appears after the third or fourth day. The spots are red and slightly raised.

Close up of measles rash on skin.
Measles rash looks like red, slightly raised spots and may be blotchy but not itchy.

Someone with measles is infectious for 24 hours before the rash appears, and four days afterwards. The illness usually lasts about 10 days.

If you have measles symptoms

Call your doctor if you have any measles symptoms. Let the clinic know about your symptoms so they can consider whether you may be infectious.

They might suggest a home visit, or they may ask you to come to see them at the end of the day. This is to avoid spreading the highly infectious disease to other people.

If you are diagnosed while visiting a clinic, they might isolate you in a separate room for the same reason.

Anyone who suspects they might have measles should stay home and should not attend school, child care or work.

Visit our measles symptoms and diagnosis page for more information.

Measles prevention

The best way for you to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated.

If you have children, remember to vaccinate them at 12 and 18 months, as per Australia’s National Immunisation Program Schedule.

Vaccination is free and can be done by your doctor.

Visit our measles treatments and prevention page for more information.

Measles immunity

Anyone who has not had measles before and hasn’t been vaccinated can be infected. However, cases of re-infection after you have had the virus are extremely rare because the body builds up immunity (resistance) to the virus.

Most people who are not immune from measles and are in close contact with somebody who is infected will catch it.

What causes measles?

Measles is caused by a type of virus called a paramyxovirus. This kind of virus spreads from person to person via ‘droplets’ from coughing or sneezing. Measles is so contagious that about 9 in 10 people who come in contact with the virus will catch it if they are not immunised.

You can catch measles by breathing in these droplets or, if the droplets have settled on a surface, by touching the surface and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth. The measles virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours.

Once inside your body, the virus multiplies in the back of your throat and lungs before spreading throughout your body, including your respiratory system and the skin.

Should I keep my child home from school?

Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including measles, and their recommended exclusion periods.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Measles in Australia

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness. Infected people spread measles through coughing and sneezing. The virus can survive in the air and on surfaces for a couple of hours.

Read more on AIHW – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website


Measles is a highly infectious disease that is usually spread through air-borne droplets of the virus.

Read more on WA Health website

Measles - Diseases

Measles information page

Read more on NSW Health website

Measles self-care -

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It is most common in children and is spread by coughing, sneezing or sometimes kissing. Find out what products are available for measles.

Read more on myDr website

Measles and Mumps Tests - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and how tests for measles and mumps are carried out

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Measles | Australian Government Department of Health

Measles is a highly contagious disease, spread by the droplets from when an infected person coughs and sneezes. Symptoms include a red rash and fever. Measles is prevented by vaccination. It can affect non-immune people of all ages. Measles has no treatment most people get better on their own.

Read more on Department of Health website

Measles - Better Health Channel

Measles can cause serious and sometimes fatal complications, including pneumonia and brain inflammation.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Measles - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Measles causes middle ear infection and pneumonia and in 1 in 1000 cases, brain infection, often leading to death or permanent brain damage.

Read more on SA Health website

Measles: what you need to know -

Measles is a very infectious and potentially serious illness that is caused by a type of virus called paramyxovirus. It is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or sometimes kissing.

Read more on myDr website

Serious childhood rashes

A rash on your baby’s skin may indicate a serious condition, especially if they also have a high temperature, cough or swollen neck glands. Learn more here.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo