Health conditions

Measles

  • Measles is a highly infectious disease and one of the most easily spread infections.
  • If you were born after 1965, and haven't already had two doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, you can get up to two free vaccinations (consultation fees may apply). Find an immunisation provider near you.
  • Measles can have serious complications, especially during pregnancy. Get vaccinated before you get pregnant.
  • Measles is common in many countries overseas and a potentially deadly illness in many holiday destinations where there are currently a number of significant measles outbreaks. Get vaccinated before you travel.
Measles rash on a boys chest

Just being in the same room as someone with measles can result in transmission of infection. Measles is spread through air-borne droplets. It can also be spread through direct contact with the mucous membranes of an infected person, and by touching articles freshly soiled with the mucous and saliva of an infected person.

In the past, measles infection was very common in childhood. Now, due to immunisation, measles infection is rare in Australia, however it remains a common disease outside Australia and outbreaks can occur when overseas travellers bring the virus back to Australia.

Measles is a different disease to German measles (rubella).

How do you get measles?

Measles is usually spread when a person breathes in the measles virus that has been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infectious person.

People with measles are usually infectious from just before the symptoms begin (2 to 4 days) until 4 days after the rash appears.

The measles virus has a short survival time in the air and on objects and surfaces (less than 2 hours) and it is inactivated quickly by sunlight and heat. It's generally considered safe to enter an area where a person with measles has been (e.g. a clinic waiting area) 30 minutes after they have left the area.

If you think you have been exposed to measles

If you have never had measles or have not been vaccinated against measles you are at risk of measles infection.

  • If it is less than 3 days since you came into contact with a person with measles, immunisation can prevent you becoming infected.
  • If it is more than 3 days and less than 7 days since you came into contact with a person infected with measles, an injection called immunoglobulin can protect you. Immunoglobulin contains antibodies against the measles virus. It is especially recommended for young children (less than 1), pregnant women who have not been immunised and people with other medical conditions who have a greater risk of developing complications if they catch measles.
What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

The time from exposure to becoming sick is usually about 10 days. The rash usually appears around 14 days after exposure.

The first symptoms of measles are:

  • fever
  • tiredness
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • sore red eyes.

These symptoms usually last for a few days before a red blotchy rash appears. The rash starts on the face for 1 to 2 days and spreads down to the body. The rash will last for 4 to 7 days.

Complications

Up to one-third of people infected with measles will experience a complication. This can include ear infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia, and may require hospitalisation. About 1 in every 1000 people with measles develops encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

How do I know I have measles?

Measles can be difficult to diagnose early in the illness because there are many other viruses that cause similar illnesses with fever and a rash. Sometimes the presence of white spots inside the mouth, called Koplik spots, the timing of the fever and the rash, and the appearance of the rash can help a doctor to make the diagnosis.

Whenever measles is suspected, a blood test or a swab can be taken from the nose or throat and a urine sample can be collected to confirm the diagnosis in the laboratory.

Confirming the diagnosis is important so that other people who may be at risk of measles can be identified and offered vaccination if they have not been already vaccinated.

If you (or your child) develops symptoms of measles

  • Do not attend public places (such as work, school, early childhood education and care services or shopping centres) or use public transport.
  • See a doctor, preferably your general practitioner, as soon as possible so a diagnosis can be confirmed. Take this fact sheet along.
  • Call the surgery ahead to alert them of your symptoms and to allow them to make arrangements to assess you safely and without infecting other people.
  • Call the local public health unit

Notifiable disease

Measles is a notifiable disease so doctors, hospitals and laboratories must inform the Department of Health of you or your child’s diagnosis. Notification is confidential.

Department of Health staff will talk to you or your doctor to find out how the infection occurred, identify other people at risk of infection, and let you know about immunisation and whether you or your child needs to stay away from work, school or group gatherings.

How is measles treated?

There is no specific treatment for measles. You should rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take paracetamol for fever if required.

While you have the infection

While you are infectious with measles, up to 4 days after the rash appears, it is important that you stay at home to avoid spreading it to other people.

Is there a vaccine to protect against measles?

Yes, measles is a vaccine-preventable disease and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR vaccine) is available.

Unimmunised children who have come into contact with measles and who do not receive MMR or immunoglobulin cannot attend school until 14 days after the rash appeared in the person with measles.

Where to get help


Last reviewed: 21-03-2019
Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Photo of a women in her 30s/40s with a serious expression. Text: Have you been fully vaccinated against measles?