Vaccinations

Measles outbreak: what to do

Measles outbreaks can happen anywhere and at any time.

Since October 2017 measles outbreaks have been reported in Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Surrey that are all linked to ongoing large outbreaks in Europe.

Anyone planning to travel to Europe should make sure they are up to date with their MMR vaccines. Unvaccinated people travelling to Romania, Italy and Germany – where there are large outbreaks – are at particularly high risk.

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and can sometimes lead to serious complications.

The MMR vaccine is available to all adults and children who are not up to date with their two doses of MMR vaccine. Anyone who is not sure if they are protected should check with their GP practice.

Here's what to do in the event of a measles outbreak near you.

Why is it so important to be vaccinated against measles?

Measles is a very infectious, serious illness that, in rare cases, can be fatal. About 1 in 5 children with measles experiences complications such as ear infections, diarrhoea and vomiting, pneumonia, meningitis, and eye disorders. One in 10 children with measles ends up in hospital. There is no treatment for the disease. Vaccination is the only way of preventing it.

How easy is it to catch measles?

Measles spreads very easily. In fact, it's one of the most infectious diseases known. You can catch measles if you spend just 15 minutes with someone who has the disease.

Read more about measles and the MMR vaccination.

Can adults catch measles?

Yes. And adults are likely to be more ill than children and for longer. Someone with measles generally has to spend 5 days in bed and be off work for 10 days. Adults are also more prone to measles complications than children.

We live a long way from the outbreak, so should I be worried?

Outbreaks of measles can happen anywhere at any time. Wherever you live in the UK, it's important that your children or teenagers are up to date with their MMR and other childhood vaccinations.

If your child has already had two doses of MMR vaccine, you don't need to worry.

Similarly, if your child had their first dose of MMR as a baby, but they are not yet old enough to have received their second dose, they are up to date and there is no need to have the second MMR dose earlier than scheduled.

However, if your child is school-age and has only had one MMR dose, or has not been vaccinated at all, they should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Find out which vaccinations are available on the NHS.

What if I'm going close to an area with an outbreak?

If you have plans to travel to an area where there has been an outbreak of measles, make immediate arrangements with your GP for your children or teenagers to receive the MMR vaccination if they haven't had both doses before.

Babies and young children can have doses of the vaccination earlier or closer together than usual in special circumstances.

Can my children still have the MMR vaccination if they weren't vaccinated as babies?

Yes. It's never too late for your children and teenagers (or you) to "catch up" with MMR vaccination if you or they missed it earlier. Children up to the age of 18 and adults without immunity should have a catch-up MMR vaccination.

Can a baby under 6 months have the MMR vaccine?

No. Babies under 6 months usually have some antibodies to measles already in their system passed on from their mum at birth, which may give them some protection for the first few months. But this residual immunity also interferes with their response to the MMR vaccine.

So, the best approach for children under 6 months is to try to avoid them having any contact with measles.

It's also a good idea to make sure the rest of your family have had the MMR jab, especially if you are planning to visit an outbreak area, as the greatest risk is in the household.

I'm not sure if my children are already vaccinated. How do I find out?

MMR vaccination is usually given as a first dose around the age of 13 months and again as a "booster" jab before school between the ages of 3 and 5.

If your child has already had the vaccine, it should be recorded in their medical notes and in their personal health record (the Red Book). Ask your GP or practice manager if you're not sure.

Find your local GP.

What do I do if my GP isn't sure if my family has been vaccinated?

If you or your GP are unsure whether your children or teenagers have been vaccinated against measles before, go ahead and arrange to have them vaccinated again. It won't hurt them to have the MMR vaccination a second or third time.

Will I have to pay for the MMR vaccination?

No. MMR vaccination is available to adults and children free on the NHS.

Can you still get measles after the MMR vaccination?

It's extremely unlikely, but you need 2 doses of MMR to be fully protected. The first dose of the MMR jab protects 90% of those who receive it, and the second dose tops this up to 99% protection.

How do I arrange vaccination?

Simply call your local GP practice and make an appointment for an MMR jab. It involves 2 doses, which can be given just a month apart to give protection as quickly as possible.

If you aren't registered with a GP, find the nearest doctor's surgery, who will give your family the jabs. 

Read more about how the MMR jab is given.

Can adults have the MMR jab?

It's not just children who can benefit from MMR vaccination.

Young people and adults who are unsure whether they've had measles or been vaccinated – particularly if they're carers or work with children – can have the MMR vaccine on the NHS from their GP.

Bear in mind that most adults born before 1970 are likely to be immune because they have probably been exposed to measles already.

Page last reviewed: 19/03/2017
Next review due: 19/03/2020