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Child and paediatrician with a phial of MMR vaccine - measles

Child and paediatrician with a phial of MMR vaccine - measles
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Measles

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.

Last reviewed: March 2018

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