What you need to know

  • Measles is highly contagious and spreads through the air from coughing and sneezing.
  • One of the main symptoms is a blotchy rash that starts on the face, moves behind the ears, and down the body.
  • If you think you or your child has the measles, stay home. Call your doctor's office before taking your child in so the disease doesn't spread to people in the waiting room.
  • The best way to protect your child from the measles is by getting them vaccinated.

How do you catch measles?

Measles is highly contagious and spreads through the air by coughing, sneezing, saliva, mucus, or by touching an infected surface. It can survive for up to two hours in the air. A person with measles is most contagious from when symptoms start until three to four days after the rash appears.

Who is at risk of catching measles?

  • Children under five years are most at risk – especially babies who are too young to immunise 
  • People who haven't received at least one dose of a measles vaccine
  • People who haven't already had the disease

Measles can lead to serious complications, including:

  • Ear infections, which can cause permanent hearing loss
  • Diarrhoea
  • Pneumonia 
  • Seizures 
  • Swelling of the brain – this is rare, but can cause permanent brain damage or death.

Symptoms

It takes about 10-12 days for your child to develop symptoms after being in contact with someone with measles.

Immediate symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose 
  • Sore and watery pink eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Small white spots on the back inner cheek of the mouth (called Koplik spots).

Day 3-7 symptoms may include:

  • A blotchy rash that starts on the face, behind the ears, and moves over the head and down the body. This lasts up to a week.

If your child has measles symptoms

  • Stay home. Don’t go to work or send your child to day care or school to prevent the spread of infection 
  • Call PlunketLine or your doctor to check if your child needs to be seen
  • Don't go to your doctor's clinic without phoning first, because measles can spread easily to others in the waiting room.

Caring for your child with measles

Tamariki with measles can be very unwell and need lots of care. There’s no specific antiviral treatment for measles, but hospital care (when needed) can help to manage severe complications.

If your child is at home you can support them with:

  • Healthy meals 
  • Vitamin A supplements 
  • Lots of fluids 
  • Cuddles and reassurance.

It’s important to take care of yourself too, as this can be a stressful, worrying and tiring time. Take time to rest and eat well. If possible, get your whānau or friends to help.  

How to protect your child

  • Check your child’s MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination status. If they have not had the MMR vaccine, get them vaccinated, along with other family members. 
  • Make sure you are vaccinated. If you are born before 1969 (and you’re 50 or older), you are considered to have immunity.

Measles and pregnancy

Most pregnant women are already immune through a previous MMR vaccination. If you're not sure if you've been immunised, check your records in your Well Child Tamariki Ora or Plunket book, or ask your family doctor.

Women who are pregnant should not get the vaccine.  

Pregnant women who catch the measles during pregnancy are at risk of miscarriage, premature (early) labour and having babies with low birth weight. If you are pregnant and know you have encountered someone who has confirmed measles, you should discuss this immediately with your maternity care or doctor

The Immunisation Advisory Centre

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Provides information about vaccine-preventable diseases and the benefits and risks of immunisation.

Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922