What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that can cause serious complications for anyone who becomes infected. The broad uptake of measles vaccination through the Australian National Immunisation Program means that the disease is now quite rare in Australia.
However, outbreaks still occur, with overseas visitors and returning residents bringing the virus into Australia. For this reason, it is important to make sure that everyone in your family is protected.
What are the symptoms of measles?
The most well-recognised symptom of measles is the characteristic rash, which appears after a few days of general illness with fever. The rash develops with flat discoloured skin and small bumps but is not itchy. It usually starts on the face or upper neck and then spreads over the body.
Some early signs and symptoms of measles include:
- conjunctivitis (sore, red eyes)
- cold symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, feeling tired and generally unwell)
You might start to show symptoms about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the measles virus, and these symptoms can last for up to 14 days.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — If you are feeling unwell and not sure what to do next, check your symptoms using the healthdirect Symptom Checker tool.
What are the complications of measles?
Adults are at higher risk of developing complications.
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.
I’m pregnant — can measles affect my unborn baby?
If you are pregnant, you should not be vaccinated for measles until after you've had your baby.
Vaccinations and pregnancy
Some vaccinations are recommended before pregnancy, while others you can safely have during pregnancy.
How is measles spread?
Measles is one of the most contagious of all childhood illnesses. Being in the same room as an infected person is enough to spread the virus, and 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people who come into contact with an infected person will get measles.
A person who has the measles virus will be contagious from the day before they start to feel unwell until up to 4 days after the rash appears.
What if I have been in contact with someone with measles?
If you are pregnant and have been in contact with anyone with the measles virus you should call your doctor immediately. Do not go to the clinic since you don’t want to infect people in the waiting room. Staff will let you know the safest way to see the doctor. Be sure to tell them that you are pregnant.
It is also important to:
- stay away from others to prevent spread of the virus
- look out for any symptoms
- ask your doctor if family members need to be vaccinated
If your doctor thinks you may have measles, you may be asked to take a blood or urine test or for a sample from your nose or throat to check your immunity.
If you have measles, a public health unit staff member will interview you to try and find out where you caught measles and identify all your contacts to prevent further spread of the virus.
Make sure you let your doctor and the public health unit staff know if there is anyone in your home who may be at high-risk, for example people with an immune disease or on medications such chemotherapy. Other high risk groups include pregnant women who don’t know if they have been immunised and babies who haven’t yet had their vaccinations.
Is there any treatment for measles?
There is no specific treatment for measles. You should rest and drink plenty of fluids and you can also take paracetamol for fever — be sure to check the dosage instructions on the pack. It is important to note you may have to avoid other pain-relief medications during pregnancy. Contact your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine during pregnancy.
I’m planning a pregnancy — what can I do to avoid measles?
Any adult born during or after 1966 should make sure they have had 2 doses of the vaccine. Speak to your doctor if you are unsure. Vaccination before pregnancy is particularly important, but remember to use contraception to avoid pregnancy for at least 28 days after you get the vaccine. There is no risk to pregnant women from contact with people who have recently been vaccinated.
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.
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Last reviewed: April 2021