Complications of measles 

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.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2015

Next review due: 11/09/2017