Measles is a highly infectious viral illness, which can cause serious disease. Measles is now uncommon in Australia because of high levels of immunisation.
Annually in Australia since 2000 there have been years with 10 cases only and some years with up to 340, many in returned travellers. In the Northern Territory since 2000 there have been zero to 54 cases per year.
One third of people with measles develop complications, particularly young children and adults.
The best protection against measles infection is vaccination and people should receive two measles-containing vaccines. In Australia the vaccine is available as a combination vaccine containing measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV).
You can get a free vaccine from your:
You can find a GP open on weekends or after hours on the NT Primary Health Network after hours website.
For more information go to measles vaccination.
Disease in non-immune people exposed to measles can be prevented by administration of a measles-containing vaccine if given within three days of exposure, or by administration of immunoglobulin within seven days of exposure.
If you have had contact with measles, get the measles contact fact sheet from the Department of Health ePublications.
Measles is spread by breathing in airborne droplets from the coughs and sneezes of people infected with the disease. Measles is one of the most highly infectious communicable diseases.
In Australia most measles infection originates from returned overseas travellers or from foreign visitors who can then spread the infection to non-immune individuals.
The symptoms of measles are:
- runny nose
- sore eyes.
These symptoms usually occur about seven to 10 days after exposure to a case followed by a red, blotchy rash two to four days later.
The rash starts on the face and spreads down the body. One third of people with measles develop complications, particularly young children and adults. These include ear infection, diarrhoea and pneumonia, which may require hospitalisation. Rarely, measles may result in encephalitis (infection of the brain).
A person with measles is infectious from 24 hours before the onset of the first symptoms until four days after the appearance of the rash. They are most infectious before the rash appears so often do not know they have measles.
People who are not immune either by vaccination or previous infection are at risk of measles infection.
People who were born before 1966 were most likely exposed to measles and are considered immune.
Measles can be difficult to diagnose early in the illness because there are many other viruses that cause similar symptoms (cough, conjunctivitis and runny nose) with fever and a rash.
Sometimes the presence of white spots inside the mouth, called Koplik spots, the timing of the fever and the rash and the characteristics of the rash can help a doctor to make the diagnosis.
Whenever measles is suspected, swabs from the nose or throat, a urine sample or a blood test can be collected to confirm the diagnosis in the laboratory. Confirming the diagnosis is important so that other people who may be at risk of measles can be identified.
There is no specific treatment for measles. People with measles should have plenty of fluids and rest and treat symptoms as they occur. While the person remains infectious it is important that they stay at home to reduce the risk of spreading the disease to other people.
People who have measles should stay at home until they are no longer infectious which is usually 4 days after the onset of the rash.
Doctors, hospitals, laboratories, schools and childcare centres must notify cases of measles to the local Centre for Disease Control. This is so that people at risk of infection can be identified and control measures can be implemented to prevent further spread of the virus.
Last updated: 20 March 2020
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