Health Guide

How to protect yourself from measles

Understand the symptoms to look out for, and how to protect yourself.

Written by Medibank
Measles is easily prevented by getting immunised

Measles is a very contagious viral infection that causes a rash and fever. It can be a serious disease that needs hospital treatment and can cause death. Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect you from measles.

Am I at risk of measles?

Measles is rare in Australia because of the immunisation program however, cases still occur. If you haven’t been vaccinated you could be at risk of infection.

It’s not just children that contract measles: adults who have not been vaccinated are also at risk. It’s important to take precautions against the virus and know how to spot the symptoms.

Protecting yourself

The best way to protect yourself is to get the measles vaccination. It is free and available nationwide on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule. To find out if you are eligible for a free vaccine, see the Department of Health's website or contact your GP.

Measles symptoms to look out for

According to the Better Health Channel the signs and symptoms of measles may include:

  • fever
  • general discomfort, illness or lack of wellbeing (malaise)
  • runny nose
  • dry cough
  • sore and red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • red and bluish spots inside the mouth (Koplik’s spots)
  • red and blotchy skin rash that appears first on the face and hairline, and then spreads to the body.

Symptoms typically last 10-14 days, and include fever, tiredness, coughing and/or a running nose, sore or red eyes, and a rash which usually starts on the face and neck, then spreads down the body. Around one third of sufferers can also develop complications from measles, including ear infections, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, respiratory infections such as laryngitis, bronchitis or croup, and pneumonia.

What causes measles

Measles is highly contagious and is most commonly transmitted through coughing or sneezing.

Managing measles

Measles is a viral illness, which means it cannot be treated using antibiotics. In light of this, the recommended treatment options are generally:

  • Get lots of bed rest
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Use paracetamol to reduce fevers or pain
  • Note, isolation is required given measles is a highly contagious disease.

Occasionally, measles develops into a serious disease that requires urgent treatment and can even be life threatening. Sometimes, people can die from complications even if they receive prompt medical attention.

Treatment depends on the complication but may include:

  • hospitalisation
  • supportive care – for example, to maintain hydration, and to check for fever and infection
  • antibiotics – to treat bacterial infection.

1. While the immunisation at 12 and 18 months is measles-specific, at four years of age children will still require another vaccine that protects against measles and other serious infections including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio.

Written by Medibank

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