What is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the measles virus, a member of the genus Morbillivirus of the family Paramyxoviridae. Measles is more severe in younger children and adults. It is one of the leading causes of death among young children in developing nations even though it is a vaccine-preventable disease. 

Over 20 million people are affected by measles each year. More than 95% of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and poor health infrastructure.

Most developed countries provide the measles vaccination as part of their routine immunisation services, thereby almost eliminating measles cases in those areas. However, travellers may inadvertently re-introduce the virus to areas where the number of vaccinated people has decreased. Maintenance of a high level of immunity in the population through ongoing vaccination is required to prevent this disease.

How do you get Measles?

Measles virus spreads from person to person by inhaling airborne droplets containing the virus that are coughed into the air by infected people or by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected people.

Susceptibility and Resistance

People who recover from measles are immune for the rest of their lives. Anyone who has not been vaccinated in the past can become infected. Unvaccinated and malnourished young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death. 

Incubation Period

The incubation period for Measles is 7-18 days.

What are the Symptoms?

General symptoms include: high fever; cough; runny nose; red, watery eyes and Koplik spots (small spots inside the mouth with white or bluish-white centres on a reddish base). A red blotchy rash appears within the first week and lasts 4 to 7 days. The rash begins on the face and then spreads to the hands and feet. Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane on the inner part of the eyelid and the membrane covering the whites of the eyes) is a common feature.

Complications of measles can include:  blindness, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pneumonia; croup, diarrhoea, and ear infection.

Preventative Measures

Measles is prevented by vaccination.


There is no specific treatment for uncomplicated measles except for symptomatic care. Complications from measles can be avoided through good nutrition, adequate fluid intake and treatment of dehydration. Eye and ear infections and pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics if necessary.

In developing countries where malnutrition is common, vitamin A supplements are given to children to prevent the blindness complication.  Vitamin A supplements are not necessary in countries where malnutrition is not a problem.


Where Does It Commonly Occur?

Measles occurs anywhere in the world but is more common in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, or in developed countries where the level of vaccination in the population is decreasing.