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Measles symptoms and diagnosis

What are the symptoms of measles?

  • Measles begins like a bad cold and cough with sore, watery eyes.
  • Your child will become gradually more unwell, with a temperature.
  • You might notice tiny white marks, known as 'Koplik's spots', on the inside of your child's cheek and at the back of her mouth.
  • A rash appears after the third or fourth day. The spots are red and slightly raised. They may be blotchy, but not itchy. The rash begins behind the ears and spreads to the face and neck, then the rest of the body.
  • The illness usually lasts about a week.

Measles is much more serious than chickenpox, German measles (rubella) or mumps. It's best prevented by the MMR vaccination. Serious complications include pneumonia and death.

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.

How is measles diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose measles from the combination of symptoms you may have, such as the characteristic rash and the small spots inside the mouth.

Doctors have a duty to notify the local Health Protection Unit of all reported and suspected cases of measles. They will also notify the child's school if necessary.

Your doctor might give your child a blood test to confirm whether it's measles.

Last reviewed: August 2015

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