Cookies on this website

We use cookies on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the NHS Direct Wales website. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookie settings at any time.

Encyclopaedia


Measles

Introduction

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications. It's now uncommon in Wales because of the effectiveness of vaccination.

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

The infection usually clears in around 7-10 days.

Symptoms of measles

The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after you're infected. These can include:

  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
  • small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks

A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear. This usually starts on the head or upper neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body.

Read more about the symptoms of measles.

When to see your GP

You should contact your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child may have measles.

It's best to phone before your visit as your GP surgery may need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

You should also see your GP if you've been in close contact with someone who has measles and you've not been fully vaccinated (had two doses of the MMR vaccine) or haven't had the infection before – even if you don't have any symptoms.

Is measles serious?

Measles can be unpleasant, but will usually pass in about 7-10 days without causing any further problems.

Once you've had measles, your body builds up immunity (resistance) to the virus and it's highly unlikely you'll get it again.

However, measles can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications in some people. These include infections of the lungs (pneumonia) and brain (encephalitis).

Read more about the complications of measles.

How measles is spread

The measles virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

You can easily 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 virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours.

People with measles are infectious from when the symptoms develop until about four days after the rash first appears.

How measles can be prevented

Measles can be prevented by having the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

This is given in two doses as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. The first dose is given when your child is around 13 months old and a second dose is given before your child starts school.

Adults and older children can be vaccinated at any age if they haven't been fully vaccinated before. Ask your GP about having the vaccination.

If the MMR vaccine isn't suitable for you, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) can be used if you're at immediate risk of catching measles.

Read more about preventing measles.

Treating measles

There are several things you can do to help relieve your symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection, including:

  • taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever, aches and pains (aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old)
  • drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • closing the curtains to help reduce light sensitivity
  • using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
  • staying off school or work for at least four days from when the rash first appears

In severe cases, especially if there are complications, you or your child may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

Read more about treating measles.

How common is measles?

The effectiveness of the MMR vaccine means that cases of measles are uncommon in Wales nowadays. However, the number of cases has risen in recent years and there have been some high-profile outbreaks.

For example, between November 2012 and July 2013 there was an outbreak in and around Swansea, during which more than 1,200 cases were reported.

It's thought the rise in the number of cases of measles is the result of parents not getting their child vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, probably because of speculation linking MMR to autism.

Publicity in 1998 highlighted a report claiming a link between the MMR jab and autism. However, numerous studies that were undertaken to investigate this claim found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

^^ Back to top

Symptoms

Measles starts with cold-like symptoms that develop about 10 days after becoming infected. This is followed a few days later by the measles rash.

For most people, the illness lasts around 7-10 days in total.

Initial symptoms

The initial symptoms of measles can include:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • swollen eyelids
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
  • small greyish-white spots in the mouth (see below)
  • aches and pains
  • a cough
  • loss of appetite
  • tiredness, irritability and a general lack of energy

Spots in the mouth

A day or two before the rash appears, many people with measles develop small greyish-white spots in their mouth.

Not everyone with measles has these spots, but if someone has them in addition to the other symptoms above or the rash below, it's highly likely they have the condition.

The spots will usually last for a few days.

The measles rash

The measles rash appears around two to four days after the initial symptoms and normally fades after about a week.

You'll usually feel most ill on the first or second day after the rash develops.

The rash:

  • is made up of small red-brown, flat or slightly raised spots that may join together into larger blotchy patches
  • usually first appears on the head or neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body
  • is slightly itchy for some people
  • can look similar to other childhood conditions, such as slapped cheek syndrome, roseola or rubella
  • is unlikely to be caused by measles if the person has been fully vaccinated (had two doses of the MMR vaccine) or had measles before

You can use the childhood conditions slideshow to compare measles with some similar childhood rashes.

When to seek medical advice

Contact your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child has measles, even if you're not completely sure.

It's best to phone before your visit, as your GP surgery may need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

You should also see your GP if you've been in close contact with someone who has measles and you've not been fully vaccinated or haven't had the infection before – even if you don't have any symptoms yet.

^^ Back to top

Treatment

There's no specific treatment for measles, but the condition usually improves within 7-10 days. Your GP will probably suggest taking things easy at home until you're feeling better.

Stay away from work or school for at least four days from when the measles rash first appears, to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

You should also try to avoid contact with people who are more vulnerable to the infection, such as young children and pregnant women.

Relieving symptoms

If the symptoms of measles are causing discomfort for you or your child, there are some things you can do to treat these while you wait for your body to fight off the virus.

Controlling fever and relieving pain

Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to reduce a high temperature (fever) and relieve any aches or pains if your child is uncomfortable.

Liquid infant paracetamol can be used for young children. Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old.

Speak to your pharmacist if you're not sure which medications are suitable for your child.

Drink plenty of fluids

If your child has a high temperature, make sure they drink plenty of fluid because they may be at risk of dehydration.

Keeping hydrated may also help reduce throat discomfort caused by coughing.

Treating sore eyes

You can gently clean away any crustiness from your child's eyelids and lashes using cotton wool soaked in water.

Closing curtains or dimming lights can help if bright light is hurting their eyes.

Treating cold-like symptoms

If your child has cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose or a cough, there are a number of things you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

For example, it might help your child if they sit in a hot, steamy bathroom. Or, putting a wet towel on a warm radiator will moisten the air, which may help ease your child's cough.

Drinking warm drinks, particularly ones containing lemon or honey, may also help to relax the airways, loosen mucus and soothe a cough. However, honey should not be given to babies under 12 months.

Spotting signs of serious illness

If you or your child has measles, you should keep an eye out for any signs of the serious complications that can sometimes develop.

Signs of a more serious problem include:

Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 for an ambulance if you or your child develop any of these symptoms.

Read more about the complications of measles below.

^^ Back to top

Complications

Most people will recover from measles after around 7-10 days, but sometimes it can lead to serious complications.

It's estimated that around one in every 5,000 people with measles will die as a result of the infection.

Who's most at risk?

Complications of measles are more likely to develop in certain groups of people, including:

  • babies younger than one year old
  • children with a poor diet
  • children with a weakened immune system, such as those with leukaemia
  • teenagers and adults

Children who are older than one year and otherwise healthy have the lowest risk of developing complications.

Common complications

More common complications of measles include:

About one in every 15 children with measles will develop complications like these.

Uncommon complications

Less common complications of measles include:

  • liver infection (hepatitis)
  • misalignment of the eyes (squint), if the virus affects the nerves and muscles of the eye
  • infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) or infection of the brain itself (encephalitis)

Rare complications

In rare cases, measles can lead to:

  • serious eye disorders, such as an infection of the optic nerve (the nerve that transmits information from the eye to the brain), known as optic neuritis, which can lead to vision loss
  • heart and nervous system problems
  • a fatal brain complication known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), which can occur several years after measles – however, this is very rare, occurring in only one in every 25,000 cases

Pregnancy complications

If you're not immune to measles and you become infected while you're pregnant, there's a risk of:

If you're pregnant and you think you've come into contact with someone with measles and you know you're not immune, you should see your GP as soon as possible.

Your GP can advise you about treatment to reduce your risk of developing the condition. Read more about preventing measles.

When to seek immediate medical advice

Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 for an ambulance if you or your child have measles and develop:

These symptoms may be a sign of a serious bacterial infection requiring admission to hospital and treatment with antibiotics.

^^ Back to top

Prevention

You can avoid catching measles by having the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

If the MMR vaccine isn't suitable for you, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) can be used if you're at immediate risk of catching measles.

MMR vaccine

Routine vaccination

The MMR vaccine is given as part of the routine NHS childhood vaccination programme. One dose is usually given to a child when they're 12-13 months old and a second dose is given before they start school, usually between three and five years old.

Contact your GP if you are uncertain about whether your child’s vaccinations are up to date.

You or your child can be vaccinated at any point if you haven't been fully vaccinated before. If you're not sure whether you were vaccinated in the past, having the vaccine again won't cause any harm.

Special circumstances

A dose of the MMR vaccine can also be given to anyone over six months of age if they're at an immediate risk of catching measles. For example, if:

  • there's an outbreak of measles in your local area
  • you've been in close contact with someone who has measles
  • you're planning on travelling to an area where the infection is widespread

Children who have the vaccine before their first birthday should still have the two routine doses at around 13 months of age and before they start school.

Human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG)

HNIG is a special concentration of antibodies that can give short-term but immediate protection against measles.

It may be recommended for people in the following groups if they've been exposed to someone with measles:

  • babies under six months of age
  • pregnant women who haven't been fully vaccinated or had measles before
  • people with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV or having treatment that weakens their immune system (such as treatment for leukaemia)

HNIG should ideally be given within six days of exposure.

Stopping measles spreading to others

If you already have measles, it's important to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other people.

You should:

  • avoid work or school for at least four days from when you first developed the measles rash
  • try to avoid contact with people who are more vulnerable to the infection, such as young children and pregnant women, while you're ill
^^ Back to top

Selected links

NHS Direct Wales links

MMR

Mumps

Rubella

External links

Public  Health - Measles

Fit for Travel: measles

^^ Back to top


The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 11/11/2015 09:34:51

Please leave your rating


Thank you for your rating
Average Rating
based on 10 ratings


0 rating
0 rating
2 ratings
3 ratings
5 ratings
Please leave your rating

Average Rating
based on 10 ratings
0 rating
0 rating
2 ratings
3 ratings
5 ratings
| Share
1000 Lives Campaign health challenge wales Twf change for life stonewall