Measles: Know the signs
With several recent measles outbreaks in Australia, learn the signs and symptoms of this highly infectious disease.
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Written by Amber
Updated over a week ago

Measles is an acute viral respiratory illness. Measles is rare in Australia and New Zealand due to high rates of immunisation. However, measles remains common in many parts of the world, and people travelling overseas or coming to Australia and New Zealand can bring the disease back with them.

For that reason, it’s important that if you were born after 1966 you have received two doses of the measles vaccine.

Remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease, which can be transmitted by direct contact with infectious droplets or by airborne spread when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. The measles virus can remain infectious in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves an area.

It can also affect people of all ages, and it remains a common cause of death in children under five in some parts of the world.

Measles outbreaks are rare in developed countries, where children are typically immunised against the disease at a young age. Babies are given the combined MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) at 12 months of age, followed by a second dose at 18 months.

If you are unsure if you’ve had the MMR vaccine as a child, talk to your doctor. It is safe to have another one as an adult.

People most at risk of measles are unvaccinated people born after 1966 (when the vaccine was introduced), infants and children under the age of 5 years, adults aged over 20 years, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.

How is measles spread?

Measles spreads extremely easily. You can catch measles by breathing in the measles virus that has been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infectious person.

Just being in the same room as someone with measles can result in catching it.

People with measles are usually infectious from just before the symptoms begin until four days after the rash appears, so they might not know they are contagious.

Symptoms and signs

The first signs of measles start to show 10 days after being exposed to the virus. They might include fever, tiredness, bad cough, runny nose, sore red eyes and cold-like symptoms. Young children (especially infants) may also experience diarrhoea.

Around 14 days after exposure, a blotchy rash appears. The rash starts as flat red spots on the face, spreads down to the body and lasts for four to seven days. The rash is not itchy.

Measles is considered a severe disease. Up to one in three people with measles may require hospitalisation. Complications of measles can include ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

How is measles treated and prevented?

Measles is prevented through vaccination. In addition, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for measles can be given within 72 hours of initial measles exposure and includes an MMR vaccine or immunoglobulin (this will need to be given at the advice of a general practitioner or specialist).

If you, or someone in your family, has symptoms of measles and you are concerned, call your GP right away, or in an emergency call 000 in Australia or 111 in New Zealand. The doctor might suggest a home visit or ask you to take extra precautions to avoid spreading the infection to other patients.

There is no specific medication available to treat measles. You can help relieve your symptoms at home by:

  • Resting

  • Drinking fluids

  • Taking paracetamol to relieve fever

Seek medical help urgently if you are concerned, or if you have severe symptoms that include:

  • Trouble breathing

  • High fever

  • Neck stiffness

  • Severe drowsiness

  • Earache

  • Diarrhoea

Related reading:

If you need someone to speak to or are not sure what to do, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat and can help direct you to whatever medical assistance you need in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: Healthdirect and NSW Health.

Image credit: Healthdirect

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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