A young boy standing at the top of a set of stairs, smiling.

This highly contagious viral infection causes a rash and fever and can lead to more serious complications. While measles is now rare in Australia, immunisation is recommended because cases still occur around the world.

Did you know?

  • Measles is a very contagious virus that can stay in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours.
  • Cases of measles continue to occur worldwide.
  • Globally, measles is one of the leading causes of death in young children1.
A father happily doing his daughters hair for her.

What is it?

Measles is a highly infectious viral disease caused by measles Morbillivirus. Once a common childhood disease, it is now rare in Australia due to immunisation. However, cases of measles are still reported in Australia and in many parts of the world it remains common.

If you are not immune to measles, you can catch the disease while travelling to these parts of the world and bring it back into Australia and spread it to others.

What are the symptoms?

Measles symptoms generally occur 10 to 14 days after infection and can include:

  • fever
  • generally feeling unwell
  • cough
  • head cold symptoms
  • sore and red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • red flat rash that usually starts on the face and neck, and then spreads to the rest of the body
  • red and bluish spots inside the mouth (Koplik’s spots).

Complications of measles can include ear infection, pneumonia (lung swelling), diarrhoea and less commonly, swelling of the brain. During pregnancy, measles infection can lead to miscarriage or premature delivery.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following measles infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about measles infection.

How is it spread?

Measles is highly contagious, one infected person can go on to infect 9 out of 10 people they come into contact with, if those people have not been immunised or previously infected2.

The virus spreads from person to person through the air, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can also become infected by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching your nose or mouth.

People infected with measles can be contagious from when they begin to get initial symptoms and for up to four days after the rash has appeared.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has not been immunised is at risk of measles infection. Those at higher risk include:

  • children
  • adolescents and adults (born during or since 1966)
  • health care workers
  • travellers.

People at higher risk of potentially fatal complications include those with a chronic illness, children younger than 5 years and adults.

Other people may be at risk of measles infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • Measles-containing vaccine is recommended and provided free for children as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Two doses are given, at 12 months and 18 months of age, as combination vaccines that also help protect against other diseases.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    Diseases Birth 2 months 4 months 6 months 12 months 18 months 4 years 10 to <15 years 15-19 years
    Chickenpox (varicella)+                  
    A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended any time between 4 years of age and less than 14 years, at least 4 weeks after the first dose. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Diphtheria                  
     
    Hepatitis A+                  
    Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended and NIP-funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and 18 months living in certain areas. A two-dose schedule (which is not funded) is also recommended for some medically at-risk children and adolescents. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Hepatitis B+                  
    An additional booster vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Haemophilus influenzae
    type b (Hib)
                     
     
    Human Papillomavirus (HPV)                  
     
    Measles                  
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease+                  
    The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. A free dose is given at 12 months of age. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Meningococcal B disease+                  
    The meningococcal B vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Mumps                  
     
    Pneumococcal disease+                  
    An additional dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and NIP-funded at 6 months of age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Two additional doses (at 6 months and 4 years) are recommended and NIP-funded for medically-at risk children. Further doses may be recommended and funded during adolescence depending on risk – speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Polio                  
     
    Rotavirus                  
     
    Rubella                  
     
    Tetanus                  
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)                  
     
    Annual flu+      
     

     

     

     

     

     
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all people aged 6 months and over. Influenza vaccine is funded under the NIP for those at or above 6 months of age with certain medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to under 5 years and those aged at or above 15 years. Learn more about who should receive flu vaccination.
    • 34
    • 14
    • 15
  • Two doses of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are recommended for anyone who is not immune, especially those who work in healthcare, childhood education, long-term care facilities or correctional facilities. If you were born during or after 1966, you should review your immunisation records to make sure you have received two doses or have evidence of immunity. If you are unsure, speak to your doctor.

    If you are planning on becoming pregnant, please speak to your doctor about whether you should be immunised. You need to wait at least 28 days after receiving the measles vaccine before you become pregnant.

     Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisations may be recommended by experts but is not funded
    Diseases All adults Planning for a baby Pregnancy 65 and over 70 to 79 years Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander adults
    Chickenpox (varicella)            
     
    Diphtheria            
     
    Hepatitis B            
     
    Measles            
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease            
     
    Meningococcal B disease            
     
    Mumps            
     
    Pneumococcal disease+            
    Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at 50 years of age, with a second dose recommended five years later. All non-Indigenous people can receive a free vaccine at 65 years of age. Women planning pregnancy who have risk factors for pneumococcal disease, including smokers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, should be assessed for pneumococcal vaccination.
    Rubella            
     
    Shingles (Herpes zoster)+            
    The herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine is funded for adults aged 70 years, with a short-term catch-up program for adults aged 71-79. It is also recommended (but not funded) for all adults over 60 years of age.
    Tetanus            
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)            
     
    Annual flu+            
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all adults, and is funded for pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 and over, people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
    • 8
    • 9
  • If you’re travelling overseas, make sure that you are up to date with your measles immunisations.

    It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health.

Treatment

Because it is a viral infection, there is no specific treatment for measles. Rather, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and can include bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, reducing fever and pain, and reducing the risk of spreading the disease by staying away from others.

Important information

For information about measles immunisation contact your doctor.

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition (2017 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/measles (accessed September 2018)
  2. Measles, Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/measles (accessed September 2018)

AUS/VAC/0086/18 Date of Approval November 2018