Measles

Measles is a highly infectious illness caused by the measles virus that can have serious consequences. This may include pneumonia and brain inflammation (encephalitis). In 2014 Australia had eliminated measles, but it has returned and outbreaks are happening across the globe. Measles can affect people at any age, but those who are at risk of catching the disease include:

  • children under 5
  • adults over 20
  • pregnant women
  • people with a compromised immune system
  • people with a chronic illness.

Signs and symptoms

Measles often starts with symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • runny nose
  • moist cough
  • sore red eyes.

These symptoms usually become more severe over 3 days. The cough is often worse at night and the affected person may wish to avoid light because of sore eyes.

At this stage of the illness, there may be small white spots on the insides of the cheeks. This is then followed by a blotchy, dark red rash, usually beginning at the hairline. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, the rash spreads over the whole body. Usually, the person feels most sick and feverish during the first days after the rash appears. The rash usually disappears after 6 days.

How it spreads

The virus is spread from an infectious person coughing and sneezing or through direct contact with secretions from the nose or mouth. A person may be infectious from about 5 days before the onset of the rash until about 4 days after the rash appears. The time from contact with the virus until symptoms start to show is usually around 10 days but can be anywhere from 7 to 18 days.

Prevention

The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of getting measles is to ensure your vaccination is up to date.

To prevent the spread, people with measles should not go to work, school or childcare for at least 4 days after the appearance of the rash.

People who have been in contact with a person with measles and who have not had a measles vaccination or who have an immune condition, should be excluded from school and childcare for 14 days from when the rash appeared.

If unvaccinated contacts receive the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine within 72 hours of their first contact with the original infected person, they may return to childcare, school or work.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for measles and usually it resolves itself with proper care. It is best managed by:

  • bed rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • and paracetamol to lessen pain or fever.

Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 years of age with measles unless specifically recommended by a doctor. Aspirin has been associated with a risk of developing a rare liver and brain problem called Reye’s syndrome.

Contact your doctor or health provider, or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for more information.

If you have any of the measles symptoms contact your GP, and advise them before your visit or on arrival, so that control measures can be put in place.