Measles 

Introduction 

Measles

Learn how measles are transmitted, how to recognise the infection and treat them.

Measles and pregnancy

If you are planning to get pregnant and you have not had measles, arrange with your GP to have the MMR vaccine. If you catch measles during pregnancy, it can be passed on to your baby, which can be very damaging or even fatal to your baby. Measles in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature labour or a baby with low birth weight. The MMR jab cannot be given during pregnancy.

Measles (sometimes known as morbilli) is a highly infectious viral illness. It causes a range of symptoms including fever, coughing and distinctive red-brown spots on the skin.

The measles virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

You can catch measles by breathing in these droplets or, if the droplets have settled on a surface, by touching the surface and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth.

The most effective way of preventing measles is the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

How common is measles?

The success of the MMR vaccine means that in the UK, cases of measles are rare. However, in recent years the number of cases has been increasing. For example, in 2009 there were 1,143 cases of measles in England and Wales compared with 70 cases in 2001.

It is thought that the rise in the number of cases of measles is due to parents not getting their child vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. This is probably due to speculation linking MMR to autism.

Publicity in 1998 highlighted a report claiming a link between the MMR jab and autism. However, numerous studies that were undertaken to investigate this claim found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Who is affected?

Measles is most common among children aged 1-4 years old, although anyone who has not been vaccinated against measles can catch it.

Outlook

Treatment for measles is normally not necessary as the body's immune system can usually fight off infection in a couple of weeks. Typically, once you have fought off the measles infection, you develop immunity (resistance) to it.

However, possible complications of measles include pneumonia, ear and eye infections and croup (an infection of the lungs and throat).

More serious complications, such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), are rarer but can be fatal. There are hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide from measles every year.

Last reviewed: 26/01/2010

Next review due: 26/01/2012

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Vaccinations protect your child against many diseases. Get advice on what your child needs and when.