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Measles FAQs

What is measles?

A potentially serious, highly infectious disease caused by a virus.

How do you catch measles?

Measles is spread when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes tiny droplets (respiratory aerosols) containing the virus into the air. These droplets can stay in the air for long periods and be breathed in by another person. Measles can also be spread by contact with hands, tissues or other articles contaminated by an infected person. It takes 7–18 days (usually around 10 days) from when a person has come in contact with the virus, for the first symptoms to appear.

How serious is measles?

Most people get very sick when they have measles. Measles lowers your body’s ability to fight other diseases, especially for younger kids or those already unwell – such as with cancer. Very young babies and those who have weak immune systems often can’t be vaccinated and rely on others to protect them by getting the vaccine.

What are the symptoms of measles?

  • The illness begins with fever, cough, runny nose and sore eyes which usually lasts for 2-4 days before a rash appears. The rash usually starts on the face and head, then spreads all over the body.
  • There are many possible serious complications of measles including:
    • Ear infections
    • Diarrhoea
    • Brain inflammation
    • Ongoing weakened immune system
    • Needing to be admitted to hospital
    • Developing chronic illness years later.

Even in countries with good medical care, deaths can occasionally occur because there is no specific treatment for the virus.

How do you prevent measles?

  • Immunisation is the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community
  • Keeping sick or potentially sick people away from others: in a measles outbreak, unimmunised children and adults born during or after 1966 who do not have evidence of immunity and have contact with a case are told to stay away from childcare, school and public places for 18 days after their last contact with the infected person.

What vaccines protect me?

  • Measles vaccine in Australia currently comes in two forms:
    • a Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) combination vaccine (brand name M-M-R®II)
    • a Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Varicella (MMRV) combination vaccine (used in infants at 18 months (brand names M-M-R®II, or Priorix®).

How safe is the MMR vaccine?

  • The risk of the MMR vaccine causing serious harm is extremely rare.
  • Although uncommon, the MMR vaccine can have side effects, related to it being a ‘live’ vaccine that can sometimes mimic the effects of a very mild case of measles (usually about 1 week after getting the vaccine): fever, mild rash, swelling of neck glands and joint pain.
  • There is no evidence that MMR causes conditions such as autism. A previous study that linked autism and MMR was found to have been made up and the doctor responsible is no longer allowed to practice medicine in England where the study was published.

Who should get the MMR vaccine?

  • It is recommended that all individuals born after 1 January 1966 have two MMR vaccines, and that these are documented.
  • If you are not sure or do not have documentation that you have had 2 doses of the vaccine before, have the vaccine now. An extra dose of MMR vaccine is safe and will make sure you are fully protected.
  • For children the first dose of MMR vaccine is given at 12 months in the Australian schedule, and the second (which also includes varicella [Chickenpox] [MMRV]) is due at 18 months.
  • During a measles outbreak Public Health may recommend that babies 6-11 months old who are at extra risk of measles (eg due to travel, or who have known contact with measles) have an extra MMR vaccine dose. Children who receive an MMR at less than 11 months will still need the two scheduled doses of measles-containing vaccine at 12 and 18 months.
  • Adults born before 1 January 1966 are considered immune to measles because the disease was so widespread from this highly infectious virus, before the measles vaccine became available from 1966.

Where to find immunisation records

  • Child personal health record or individual immunisation record
  • Parents and individuals can obtain history statements through the Australian Government - myGov.
  • Contact your doctor (no prescription is required) or visit an Immunisation service provider, who can obtain immunisation history statements from the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).

Who should not have the MMR vaccine?

  • Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous measles containing vaccine.
  • Anyone who is very (acutely) unwell. A minor illness is no reason to delay vaccination – you will be assessed before having the vaccine to make sure it is okay to proceed.
  • People with a weak immune system (immunocompromised, eg through treatment for cancer or other conditions). Your ability to have the vaccine will be assessed by a nurse or doctor.
  • Anyone who has received another live vaccine such as, varicella (chickenpox) or BCG (Tuberculosis [TB]) within the past month.
  • Women who are currently pregnant. Pregnancy should be delayed for one month after having the MMR vaccine.
  • Babies under 6 months.

Where can I get further information?

If you have any questions at all about measles or the MMR vaccine:

Last updated 26 November 2019
Last reviewed 25 November 2019