Learn how measles is transmitted, how to recognise the infection and to treat it.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

How common is measles?

The success of the MMR vaccine means that cases of measles are uncommon in the UK. 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 a measles outbreak in and around Swansea, during which more than 1,200 cases were reported.

It is thought that the rise in the number of cases of measles is largely due to parents not getting their child vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, probably due to 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.

Measles outbreak: what to do

MMR vaccination is the only prevention. How to protect yourself and your family.

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

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

  • cold-like symptoms
  • red eyes and sensitivity to light
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • greyish white spots in the mouth and throat

After a few days, a red-brown spotty rash will appear. This usually starts behind the ears and then spreads around the head and neck before spreading 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.

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose measles from the combination of symptoms, although a sample of your saliva may be tested to confirm the diagnosis.

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 measles virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours.

When inside your body, the virus multiplies in the back of your throat and lungs before spreading throughout your body.

People with measles are infectious from when the first symptoms develop until about four days after the rash first appears. Therefore, school or work should be avoided for at least four days from when the rash first appeared to limit the spread of infection.

Who is affected

Anyone can get measles if they haven't been vaccinated or they haven't had it before, although it's most common in children between one and four years old.

Once you have had measles, it is very rare to develop the infection again in the future because your body builds up immunity (resistance) to the virus.

How to prevent measles

The most effective way of preventing measles is to have the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The first MMR vaccination is routinely given when your child is around 13 months old and a second is given before your child starts school.

Adults and 6-13 month old children can also have the MMR vaccine if they are at risk of catching measles. For example, vaccination may be recommended if there is an outbreak of measles in your local area, or if you have been in close contact with someone who has measles.

Read more about preventing measles.

Treating measles

There's no specific treatment for measles, but your immune system should fight off the infection within 7-10 days.

There are several things you can do to help make your recovery more comfortable, including:

  • closing the curtains to help reduce light sensitivity
  • using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
  • 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

In severe cases of measles, especially if there are complications, you may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

Read more about treating measles.

Complications of measles

Measles can lead to very serious complications that can sometimes be fatal. These include bacterial infection in the lungs (pneumonia) and the brain (encephalitis).

People most at risk of developing serious complications include babies younger than 12 months, children in poor health, teenagers and adults.

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

Read more about the complications of measles.

Page last reviewed: 21/11/2013

Next review due: 21/11/2015


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The 12 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

DaveAsh said on 26 April 2014

hakasemom - it might be worth you making an appointment to talk to your GP directly.

Current advice from the British Medical Association to GPs is that anyone over 18 who hasn't had the full course of 2 MMR injections should be given them - it doesn't matter whether you're travelling anywhere or not - its just to keep people protected in this country. Here's a link to their advice:

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hakasemom said on 31 March 2014

I was born in the Philippines in September 1975. I'm travelling to the Philippines and have asked the nurse at my local GP for the MMR jab given that there is currently an outbreak there. My sister contracted the measles at the start of this year inspite of the fact that we both got our measles shots when we were infants. It's possible that we had missed our booster shots and this could be the reason for my sister to have contracted the measles. The nurse insists that I don't need it and even went as far as requiring me to pay £50 for the MMR jab. I am covered by the NHS and don't see why I need to insist for the nurse to give me the MMR jab under the NHS. I had asked for the MMR jab as early as 13th February 2014, and have yet to get anything from our local GP.

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Majed Yassine said on 19 March 2014

can the MMR can be given for baby 8 month year old

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Majed Yassine said on 19 March 2014

I had a baby 8 months years old she has the symptom of
measles what can be done to protect her

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cath5 said on 22 November 2013

A year after having measles, aged four, I started to get hallucinations. To cut the story short, when I was eight I started to get seizures which were brought on by a diseased scar to the brain due to a childhood illness, which I presume was measles, knowing this can happen,

I am saying to those young mothers, do get your children vaccinated.


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User821146 said on 19 November 2013

The lowest take up of vaccinations in the whole of the UK, in the first quarter of 2013 was, yes you guessed it Westminster, with just over 75% of children vaccinated. Why here, one day the answer will reveal itself.

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sense123 said on 28 October 2013

It is clear a lot of people are either ignorant or read equally ignorant newpapers. The MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Wakefields study into MMr and autism was fraudulent. Vaccines are safe. What empirical studies are you talking about that claim vaccines are dangerous. I am quite sure that we are not all dropping down like flies because because of flu jab!! Come on people protect your children and other peoples.

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mumabutterfly said on 27 July 2013

I am extremely upset with how my 13 months old daughter's probable measles has been handled. We were meant to be going away tomorrow and of course have been told that she and her twin brother must not leave the house. I do not know how long for, since I have not received the letter I was supposedly getting posted to me with the swabs I need to take (from the Health Protection Agency), to confirm whether it is in fact measles. I do not understand why the doctor did not carry out the swabs or a blood test when I took my daughter to the surgery. By the time we receive the swabs since she has been ill a week already now (also with an ear infection that was diagnosed before the rash appeared), she will surely be almost over the illness. We were in contact with my friend's son who is also the same age as my twins and let her know straight away. I was advised by the doctor that she should take her son to the surgery but when she rang for an appointment they said they had no confirmed cases in Surrey. Well how are they going to have confirmed cases if they don't follow up with a blood test or swab when a person is showing symptoms? They have given her son and my youngest son the MMR within the 72 hours and have told me there is a good chance my youngest son will catch measles from his sister. So I just want it confirmed and to know how long we will be staying home and my eldest son's Summer holidays will be put on hold.

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misslogical said on 06 June 2013

powellm. Your GP was not concerned so you shouldn't have been. Jackieeb I feel for you. I remember the debate but am glad I stuck to the choice of not having my children vaccinated. Pneumonia will always be a complication. Unfortunately I was ramrodded and emotionally blackmailed when one of mine was 12 to have the MMR because although he had the single vaccine for rubella and measles plus contracted measles and rubella naturally, he had not had mumps..
He changed as soon as he had the MMR jab...
There is no evidence whatsoever and has never been any studies to support the theories that the vaccines are safe. There have been many to prove otherwise. but these always get discredited! Ask your GP and he will not show you any supporting evidence whatsoever.
It was very rare for children to die after contracting measles. Just like polio, the disease was in a decline before vaccinations were introduced. most of the case of measles in the recent outbreak (hysterical scare) were to children who have already had the MMR jab.
There needs to be some REAL, UNBIASED, HONEST and OPEN research into the safety of vaccines. But that will never happen.

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jackieeb said on 28 March 2013

In 1977 there was a similar debate about Measles and vacinations, my daughter who was 16 months old contracted the disease, it turned to pnuemonia and within 2 weeks she had died.
I wish I had taken the chance and had her vaccinated.
People don,t realise their children can die.

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Powellm said on 24 March 2012

I made an appointment with my doctor 2 and a half years ago to check I was up to date with my immunisations because I was planning a family.
I knew that my parents had not had me immunised against some diseases (I don't know why they made that decision) and I explained this to the doctor.
I had a blood test, and was told I was ok and up to date.

I am now 16 weeks pregnant and have found out that I have never had the MMR jab or had measles. I have no immunity to measles at a time when cases are being reported across the UK.
I feel very worried, there is nothing that can be done now, and the consequences for an unborn baby are horrific. I just have to hope I don't come into contact with it.

I asked the doctor today why this was missed when I made my appointment over 2 years ago. They said "we don't offer the MMR to adults, try not to worry and avoid children".
I just wanted to add this, incase any other responsible mum to be books an appointment to check immunity, don't rely on the doctor looking at your notes, be pushy if you have to and make sure you spell out what you want.

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barbaraS said on 01 August 2011

Measles can be prevented since vaccination is available to prevent it's occurrence. Another disease is chicken pox which also has a vaccine. These vaccines are very much effective in protecting the child from acquiring the said diseases. Just recently a new study has attributed the clear decrease in countrywide fatalities from chickenpox to the vaccine that has been encouraged since the mid-1990s. The study builds on past research into the efficacy of the chickenpox vaccine. It discovered that fewer individuals were dying from the disease as more individuals were inoculated against it. I found this here: <a title="Chickenpox deaths dropped sharply since vaccine was released" href="">Sharp drop in deaths from chickenpox credited to vaccine</a>

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MMR catch-up: new campaign unveiled

All schoolchildren aged 10-16 who are unvaccinated are being offered MMR to protect them from measles

MMR vaccine

Find out all about the MMR vaccine which protects against measles, mumps and rubella