Measles

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be life threatening. Measles is caused by a virus and is easily preventable with immunisation.

In October 2022 there are no confirmed cases of measles in Aotearoa New Zealand. With people travelling overseas, there is a risk of measles coming into the country.

The last major measles epidemic in Aotearoa New Zealand was in 2019 with more than 2000 cases.

The best protection against an outbreak is to get immunised to protect yourself, your whānau and to help prevent the virus from spreading.

If you or anyone in your whānau was born after 1969, especially between 1989 and 2004, you may not be protected against measles (you need two doses). If you aren’t sure, ask your GP, parent or caregiver. If you’re still not sure if you’ve had any or both Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine doses, be safe and get immunised. MMR vaccines are free at your local health provider and many pharmacies. There are no safety concerns with having an extra dose.

It’s fine to have an MMR vaccine at the same time, before or after your COVID-19 vaccine.

MMR vaccination information

Summary

  • Measles is a virus that spreads easily and can cause serious problems for some people.
  • Symptoms include fever, cold-like symptoms, sore, red eyes and a blotchy rash that lasts for up to a week. 
  • Complications from measles are common. Unvaccinated children and people with weakened immune systems are at the highest risk of getting severely unwell.
  • If unvaccinated pregnant people get infected with measles it can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature labour. 
  • In the 2019 measles outbreak more than 30 percent of those infected with measles were admitted to hospital.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent getting measles. It’s free for people born after 1 January 1969. Vaccination is particularly important if you are planning to travel overseas – to protect yourself and to help prevent outbreaks in New Zealand.

Symptoms

The illness starts around 10 days after you’ve been exposed, but the range can be 7-13 days from exposure.

First symptoms

  • A fever
  • A cough
  • A runny nose
  • Sore and watery ‘pink’ eyes.

Next symptoms

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

Photo of a baby with the measles rash on its face.
Photo credit: Jim Goodson, M.P.H, used courtesy of the CDC/Molly Kurnit, M.P.H.

What to do if you or a family member has symptoms

If you think that you or a  whānau member has symptoms of measles, it is important you ring your general practice or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 (available for free 24 hours, 7 days a week), 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.

If you or your whānau member is diagnosed with measles you should isolate at home for four days after the rash develops to prevent transmission to other people.

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

View the measles quarantine calculator

Measles complications

Measles makes people feel very unwell. Children can be in bed for up to 5 days and will likely to be too sick to go to school for at least 2 weeks. It is a serious disease that can be life threatening. In the 2019 measles outbreak in New Zealand, more than 30 percent of people infected with measles were admitted to hospital.

Measles can also lead to other complications, including:

  • ear infections
  • diarrhoea
  • pneumonia
  • swelling of the brain - this is rare but can cause permanent brain damage or death
  • weakened immune system.

Up to 30 percent of people with measles will develop complications – usually children under 5 years old and adults over the age of 20.

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

Information on symptoms and complications of measles at IMAC

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for measles. You can relieve the symptoms by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

If you or a whānau member becomes more unwell, you may need to go to hospital for treatment.

If you think that you or a whānau member has symptoms of measles, it is important you get advice as soon as possible. Contact your general practice or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 (free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

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.

If you or your whānau member is diagnosed with measles you should isolate at home for four days after the rash develops.

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.

View the measles quarantine calculator

Prevention

Measles is one of the world’s most infectious diseases. The best protection against measles is the free measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Getting a measles vaccination >

The brand of MMR vaccine used in New Zealand is Priorix. See the Medsafe website for more information about Priorix (PDF, 52 KB)

Since October 2020 the MMR vaccine has been given  at 12 months and 15 months of age.

In outbreak situations, the local Medical Officer of Health can advise that vaccination be given to younger children as follows:

  • the second scheduled dose able to be given as early as 1 month after the first
  • in a severe 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 12 months and 15 months). 

Catch up on your immunisations

It’s important to be up to date with measles immunisation, even if you’re an adult. By being immunised, you will not only be protecting yourself and your family – you’ll also stop the disease spreading in your community.

Your usual health provider or nurse can provide the vaccinations. You can also ask your community pharmacy as it may provide MMR vaccination for people aged 16-50 years.  

  • One dose of MMR vaccine protects about 95 percent of people, and two doses protect about 99 percent. Because measles is so infectious, two doses are necessary to prevent outbreaks. 
  • The vaccine is free for everyone born from 1 January 1969. If you were born before then, you are likely to have had the disease as a child and therefore be immune.
  • People in their 30s and 40s are likely to have been given one dose as young children. A second dose was offered at age 11 from 1992, then at age 4 from 2001. 
  • Lower immunisation rates in the past mean that teenagers and young adults are at greatest risk of catching measles. People born between 1989 and 2004 are less likely to have been fully immunised as children.

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

Who shouldn’t have the vaccine?

You shouldn’t get immunised against measles if you:

  • are pregnant
  • have had an anaphylactic reaction to MMR or are immunocompromised.

If you think you have been exposed to measles and are unable to have the vaccine, ask your doctor for advice or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 (free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).  

Pregnant people who think they have measles, or have come in contact with someone with measles, must call their general practice or lead maternity carer as soon as possible. If you were immunised against measles prior to becoming pregnant, you are almost certainly protected.

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