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Measles and pregnancy

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Measles is a contagious viral illness.
  • Measles may cause problems during pregnancy.
  • Measles can be prevented through vaccination.

What is measles?

Measles is a contagious illness caused by a virus. It can cause serious complications for anyone who becomes infected.

Measles is now quite rare in Australia due to a successful vaccination program. But measles outbreaks still occur. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that everyone in your family is protected.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Some early signs and symptoms of measles are:

  • fever
  • conjunctivitis (sore, red eyes)
  • cold symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, feeling tired and generally unwell)
  • cough

After a few days of general illness the most well-recognised symptom of measles appears — the rash.

Image of measles rash
Measles rash has red, slightly raised spots and may be blotchy but not itchy.

The rash has flat areas of discoloured skin and small bumps. It’s not itchy. It usually starts on your face or upper neck. It then spreads over your body and to your arms and legs.

The rash can last up to one week.

You might start to show symptoms about 10 days after exposure to the measles virus. You’ll remain infectious until 4 days after your rash appears.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How is measles spread?

Measles is one of the most contagious of all preventable diseases. Most unvaccinated people who have contact with someone with measles will get sick.

Measles is spread through:

  • person-to-person contact
  • respiratory droplets, from coughing and sneezing

The virus can survive in the air and on surfaces for a couple of hours.

When you have measles, you're contagious from the day before you start to feel unwell. You remain contagious until 4 days after the rash appears.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you may have measles, you should call your doctor or midwife straight away. You should also speak with your doctor if you have been in contact with someone with measles.

Do not go to the clinic since you don’t want to infect people in the waiting room. Rather, call your doctor and they will let you know the safest way to see them.

Measles can be a very serious illness, with some people needing to go to hospital.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What are the complications of measles?

Common complications include middle ear infections and pneumonia. A rare but life-threatening complication of measles is inflammation of the brain.

Adults are at higher risk of developing complications than children. Pregnant women are at higher risk than the average adult — particularly of developing pneumonia.

If you are concerned, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Measles can be a very serious illness, with some people needing to go to hospital.

How can measles affect my pregnancy?

A measles infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight.

If you are pregnant, you should not be vaccinated for measles until after you've had your baby.

How can measles affect my unborn baby?

Having measles in pregnancy is not linked to an increased risk to your baby of congenital anomalies (birth differences).

Read more

Vaccinations and pregnancy

Vaccinations and pregnancy

Some vaccinations are recommended before pregnancy, while others you can safely have during pregnancy.

What if I have been in contact with someone with measles?

If you have been in contact with someone with measles you should call your midwife or doctor straight away.

It's also important to:

  • look out for any symptoms
  • stay away from other people to stop the spread of the virus
  • ask your doctor if your family members need to be vaccinated

If your doctor thinks you may have measles, they will organise some tests.

Is there any treatment for measles?

There is no specific treatment for measles.

It's a good idea to:

  • rest
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take paracetamol for fever — be sure to check the instructions on the packet

It’s important to note you may have to avoid other pain-relief medicines during pregnancy.

Contact your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine during pregnancy.

How can I prevent measles?

The best way to protect yourself against measles is through vaccination. However, vaccination during pregnancy is not advised.

The measles vaccine is given as a combined vaccination, either as:

  • measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
  • measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV)

These vaccines are live attenuated vaccines. There are concerns that if they’re given during pregnancy, they may affect the health of your baby.

I’m planning a pregnancy — should I be vaccinated?

If you are looking to become pregnant you should see your doctor for a pre-conception health check.

If you have never had measles and aren’t vaccinated, now is a good time to get vaccinated.

Your partner might also want to consider getting vaccinated. The vaccine is recommended for all adults who have never had measles or previously been vaccinated.

The timing of your pre-pregnancy vaccination is important. It’s recommended that 2 doses of measles vaccine are given at least 4 weeks apart.

You should avoid pregnancy for 28 days after vaccination. So, you shouldn’t stop contraception until at least a month after your second dose.

There is no risk to pregnant women from contact with people who have recently been vaccinated.

Resources and support

Measles in babies and children

Find out how babies and children can catch measles, how to treat your child at home, and when to have them vaccinated.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: June 2023

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Need more information?

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 in babies and children

Find out about the symptoms of measles, how to help prevent your child catching measles, and how to treat them at home if they get measles.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Measles | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Measles is an acute, highly infectious illness caused by the measles virus. Measles can cause serious complications such as pneumonia (lung infection) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). It may also cause middle ear infection.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Measles vaccines for Australians | NCIRS

Measles vaccines for Australians – Fact sheet [PDF – 137 KB] July 2019

Read more on National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) website

Measles | SA Health

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 vaccine | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Information about measles vaccines, who it is recommended for, how and where to get vaccinated. If you're eligible, you can get the measles vaccine for free under the National Immunisation Program.

Read more on Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website

Measles | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Find out how we define and monitor cases of measles, how you can get vaccinated, and where you can learn more about this disease.

Read more on Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website

Hand washing for hygiene | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

How to protect yourself from flu, e-coli, measles and other diseases by washing your hands.

Read more on Queensland Health 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

Mumps in Australia | Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Mumps is a contagious infection of the salivary glands, caused by the mumps virus.

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

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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