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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 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 possibly lead to serious complications.

Anyone can get measles if they haven’t been vaccinated or had it before, although it’s most common in young children and young unvaccinated adults.

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 and sore, watery eyes. A rash appears after the third or fourth day. The spots are red and slightly raised.

Someone with measles is infectious for one week before and after the rash appears.

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.

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.

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.

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.

More information

Learn more about measles, including:

Last reviewed: April 2016

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Measles can be very serious. Symptoms include a runny nose, fever and rash. Immunisation protects your child, but children can still get measles.

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