Family doctor



MEASLES -a patient's guide


Outline of this important vaccine preventable infection which can still be a dangerous illness.


  • Measles is a serious illness
  • Most children recover well but it can lead to complications which can be fatal
  • It has an incubation period of 10 to 14 days
  • Most children are infectious a few days before symptoms appear
  • The initial symptoms include coughing, fever, red eyes and spots inside the mouth
  • A red rash will appear three to five days later
  • People are infectious until the rash fades about seven days after it appears
  • Bed rest and paracetamol to control fever is the best treatment
  • Immunisation will prevent the illness

What is it?

Measles is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. It is the one of the most easily spread infectious diseases and causes regular epidemics worldwide.

Measles mostly affects children and is spread in the early stages of infection by coughing, sneezing and occasionally kissing.

Epidemics are often reported every two to three years despite widespread immunisation programmes in most countries.

Outbreaks often begin among unimmunised preschoolers. Immunised children are usually offered booster shots during an epidemic.

The illness is characterised by a red rash and is contagious two to four days before the rash appears and up until it is cleared.

Serious complications can occur including pneumonia, ear infections, and brain inflammation (very rare) which can cause mental retardation and death.

Those most at risk include unimmunised children, people who were vaccinated with an inactive vaccine and those who received immune globulin near the time of vaccination.

People who have had the measles are immune for life and everyone born before 1957 are considered immune because they are likely to have had the illness

What are the symptoms?

The illness has a 10 to 14 day incubation period after contact with an infected person.

Measles normally begins with a fever, runny nose, hacking cough, and white spots with a red ring inside the mouth known as Koplik's spots. A child may also complain of a sore throat.

A rash appears three to five days after the initial symptoms and spreads to the body and arms and legs.

The child will run a high fever and have red and watery eyes. The fever will fall in about three to five days after the rash appears and the rash will begin to fade.

The child is contagious approximately seven days after the rash appears.

What is the treatment?

There is no cure for the measles. The best remedy is bed rest, and plenty to drink. Use paracetamol to control the fever.

Children with a hacking cough may get relief from a cough mixture or by sitting in a steamy room, like the bathroom while the shower is running.

Kept the curtains closed if the child is sensitive to light.

Those with the measles should be kept isolated to prevent the spread because it is highly infectious. The child's school or preschool should also be advised.

The tiny spots on the inside of the mouth will confirm diagnosis. The measles also can be identified with a blood test.

Measles has a low death rate in healthy children. However, in malnourished children there is a small but real risk of death.

Seek immediate medical attention for your child if they complain of a stiff neck, cannot breath properly, are hard to wake, are coughing up green or yellow phlegm, have sore ears, have not urinated for 10 hours, or if they have a fit.

How can it be prevented?

Fully immunised people should not get the measles. The measles vaccine is usually given to children in their MMR ( measles, mumps, rubella) immunisation at 15 months and 4 years .

Children with weak immune systems, taking cancer drugs, or on long-term steroids may not be able to take the vaccine.

 Unimmunised people exposed to a person who has the measles can be vaccinated soon after contact to help stop infection.

A child born to a mother who had measles receives immunity from its mother. People who have had the measles are immune for life.

Future trends

Future efforts to eradicate the illness will concentrate on increasing immunisation rates worldwide to prevent regular epidemics.

Getting help

Your doctor, practice nurse, or public health nurse will be able to help


See also:

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