Te mate karawaka Measles

Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. It can cause serious problems, including brain swelling, chest infections, or death. The measles vaccine is very effective at preventing measles.

Symptoms of measles

Measles symptoms can start 7 to 18 days after you are exposed to the virus. The symptoms usually start within 10 days.

The first symptoms of measles are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • sore red eyes.

Measles makes people feel very unwell. Tamariki 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.

Red or dark pink rash

The next symptom is a red or dark pink rash. The spots are blotchy and join together. It usually starts on the face or behind the ears 3 days after the first symptoms, before moving down the body.

The rash is not usually itchy. It can last for a week or more. There may also be white spots in the mouth.

Who to contact for medical advice

If you have symptoms that you are worried about:

  • contact your usual doctor or healthcare provider
  • call Healthline for free advice 0800 611 116
  • call 111 for an ambulance in an emergency.

Complications from measles

Measles can also lead to complications, including:

  • ear infections
  • pneumonia
  • swelling of the brain (encephalitis) — this is rare but can cause permanent brain damage or death
  • weakened immune system for up to 3 years after measles, leading to more infections such as chest infections.

Up to 1 in 3 people with measles develops complications. They are usually:

  • tamariki under 5
  • adults over 20
  • people with weakened immune systems.

Pregnancy and measles

If you get measles while you are pregnant it can make you very sick and can harm your pēpi. You could lose the pēpi (miscarriage) or have early labour.

If you were immunised against measles before becoming pregnant, you are most likely protected. If you have not had the measles vaccine you should not have it during pregnancy.

Pregnant people who think they have measles, or who had contact with someone with measles, should call their midwife or doctor as soon as possible.

Pregnancy and immunisations

How measles spreads

Measles spreads through coughing and sneezing. Anyone who has not received at least 2 doses of a measles vaccine or has not already had the disease is at risk of catching and spreading measles. You can still get and spread measles with only 1 dose of the vaccine.

Diagnosing measles

If you think you or someone in your whānau has measles, call your healthcare provider or Healthline for advice as soon as possible.

Before you see your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider before you visit them. Measles is easily passed on from 1 person to another. Your healthcare provider will need to protect others against the risk before you can go to visit them. 

How to get a measles diagnosis

Your healthcare provider will usually check if your rash matches measles. They might look for white spots in the mouth, fever, cough, or sore throat.

They may also do a blood test, a throat swab or urine sample.

If you have been exposed to measles

If you may have had contact with measles, stay home and contact a health professional or call Healthline for advice. This is especially important if you are not sure if you are immunised.

Depending on how soon you can see a healthcare provider you might be able to get treatment that reduces your chances of getting measles. It is important to contact your healthcare provider as soon as you think you have had contact with measles.

This is especially important for tamariki under 1 year old, people with a weakened immune system, or if you are pregnant.

Staying home

A person with measles is most contagious from when symptoms start until 3 to 4 days after the rash appears.

If you have measles, or have been identified as a contact of someone with measles, the public health service will contact you to let you know what you need to do. They will support you with advice on how to keep yourself and your whānau safe during your illness.

If you have measles, you must isolate (stay at home and not go to work or school) for at least 4 days after your rash appears to avoid giving it to others. 

If you have had contact with someone with measles but are not sick, you will need to isolate at home, unless you are immune to measles, for example:

  • you are immunised
  • you have had measles before, or
  • you were born before 1 January 1969.

You can also use the 'Measles quarantine calculator' to work out how long you should stay home.

Measles quarantine calculator — Auckland Regional Public Health Service (external link)

If you do not hear from the public health service, or have any questions, phone Healthline for more information.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116

Treatment for measles

There is no specific treatment for measles once symptoms have started. Your healthcare provider will give you advice to relieve symptoms. 

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

Preventing measles

Aotearoa New Zealand is at very high risk of a measles outbreak. The best protection against measles is the free measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Immunisation is very important if you are planning to travel overseas. It protects you and helps prevent outbreaks in New Zealand.

Mumps

Mumps can cause swelling in the glands around the face. Find out about symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention.

Rubella

Rubella causes a spotty rash. Find out about symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention.

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