Measles

Check with your doctor whether you and your family have been fully immunised against measles – especially if you are travelling overseas or were born after 1968.

Summary

  • Measles is highly contagious – and easily preventable.
  • It affects both children and adults.
  • 2 doses of the measles vaccine is all you need to protect yourself, your family and your community.
  • Vaccination is particularly important if you are planning to travel anywhere overseas – to protect yourself and to help prevent outbreaks in New Zealand.

How is measles spread?

Measles is a highly infectious virus that spreads easily from person to person through the air, via breathing, coughing and sneezing. It affects both children and adults.

People with measles are infectious 5 days before and until 5 days after the rash appears.

Measles complications

Measles can be life threatening: about 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment.

Measles can also lead to other 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.

Up to 30 percent of people with measles will develop complications – usually children under five and adults over the age of 20.

Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature labour and low birth-weight babies.


Resources

Don't Assume You're Immune to Measles poster.
Don’t Assume You’re Immune To Measles
Available from HealthEd.


Immunisation: Making a choice for your children booklet cover.
Immunisation: Making a choice for your children
A Ministry of Health publication.

Childhood Immunsation thumbnail
Childhood Immunisation
Available from HealthEd.

Symptoms

The illness usually starts 10–14 days after you’ve been exposed. If you have measles, you’ll get the following symptoms.

First symptoms

  • A fever
  • A cough
  • A runny nose
  • Sore and watery ‘pink’ eyes
  • Sometimes small white spots on the back inner cheek of your mouth.

Day 3–7 of illness

  • A blotchy rash which tends to start on your face, behind the ears, before moving over your head and down your body. The rash lasts for up to a week.

Warning: Some of these photos are quite graphic.

Pictures courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

measles

What to do if you or a family member has symptoms

If you detect any of these symptoms, see your family doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116, for advice as soon as possible.

It’s important to call before visiting your doctor because measles is easily passed on from one person to another. Phoning ahead helps ensure steps are taken to avoid you spreading measles in the waiting room.

You should also stay away from work, school or public places, to help prevent putting other people at risk. This also applies if you or a family member aren’t fully immunised and may have been in contact with someone with measles.

Prevention

Get immunised

The best protection against measles in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. You need 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine to be fully immunised.

If you were born after December 1968 check your vaccination status, as you may not be fully immunised. If you are not sure, talk to your doctor.

The vaccines are free for children and adults who have not previously received 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine.

Vaccination is particularly important if you are planning to travel anywhere overseas – to protect yourself and to help prevent outbreaks in New Zealand.

Further immunisation information

Get up to date with your immunisations
It’s never too late to get up to date with your immunisations. By being immunised, you will not only be protecting yourself and your family – you’ll also stop the disease spreading in your community.
  • Young children are usually vaccinated at 15 months and 4 years of age.
  • 2 doses are necessary to give the best protection.
  • In an outbreak or other urgent situation, the first scheduled dose can be given from 12 months of age, with the second scheduled dose able to be given as early as 1 month after the first.
  • In an outbreak, an additional dose of measles vaccine can be given from 6 months of age. Babies immunised before they are 12 months old will still need 2 doses according to the schedule (at 15 months and 4 years).
  • Immunisation (with 2 measles vaccinations) is also very important for older children and adults.

For more information about the vaccine, read the HealthEd resource Childhood Immunisation.

Who shouldn’t have the vaccine?

You shouldn’t get immunised against measles if you:

  • are pregnant
  • have a severe allergy or immunosuppressive condition.

If you think you have been exposed to measles and are unable to have the vaccine, ask your doctor for advice.

In this section

  • Frequently asked questions on measles, including what to do if you suspect you or a family member has measles and information on the MMR vaccine. Read more
  • Stories from parents whose children became sick with measles during the 2011 outbreak, and from medical officers of health who dealt with the outbreak. Read more
  • While measles can be a dangerous illness with long-term side effects for any child, it has a more than 50 percent death rate for New Zealand children with low immunity, such as those receiving cancer treatment. The most important thing we can do to protect these children is to make sure that we and our children are immunised against measles, so that we cannot spread the illness. Read more