Measles factsheet


Measles is a virus that affects your child’s airways before spreading all over the body.

The virus is spread when infected fluid droplets come into contact with your child’s mouth or nose. Infected fluid droplets are released into the air and onto objects from coughing and sneezing when you are sick.

Measles spreads quickly, and it is the fifth highest cause of illness and death in children worldwide. Measles is rare in Australia because of vaccination, but there are still outbreaks that happen throughout the country.

 Signs and symptoms

Measles is a virus that affects your child’s airways before spreading throughout the body. Symptoms usually appear 10 - 12 days after your child is infected with the virus.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • general discomfort
  • runny nose
  • dry cough
  • sore, red eyes
  • red and bluish spots inside the mouth
  • a red, blotchy skin rash.

The measles virus can also cause other health issues, like:

  • middle ear infection
  • diarrhoea and vomiting
  • pneumonia – an infection in the lungs that causes fluid to build up
  • encephalitis - brain inflammation
  • subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) – a rare but life-threatening brain disorder.

Children are at a higher risk of severe and life-threatening measles complications if they:

  • have a chronic illness
  • are under the age of five
  • are unvaccinated.

See your local doctor as soon as possible if your child shows signs of measles. Call the doctor before you arrive so they can prevent the measles from spreading.


Your child’s doctor will diagnose measles by:

  • doing a physical check of your child’s symptoms
  • taking a blood test
  • taking a swab of the nose and throat
  • checking your child’s vaccination and travel history.


Children with measles without other complications will usually be unwell for around 14 days. Measles can be treated at home with:

  • bed rest
  • drinking fluids
  • over-the-counter pain relief for aches and fever.

Your child must isolate while they have measles to prevent it from spreading to anyone else. This means your child should stay home, away from others, until four days after the measles rash starts.

If your child has a more severe case or develops serious complications, they may need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment, including fluids and antibiotics for bacterial infections.


Exposure to measles

In Australia, all measles cases are reported to the local Public Health Unit. NSW Health will make an alert to the community when there has been a case of measles identified in places like:

  • the doctor’s office
  • the hospital
  • school
  • daycare.

The Public Health Unit will contact you if your child has been exposed to measles and will give you information on treatment options and vaccination to prevent infection.

Measles vaccine

Measles can be prevented with 2 doses of the measles vaccine, given at least 4 weeks apart.

The measles vaccine is included in the National Immunisation Program Schedule for children in Australia, which means the vaccination is free.

Children can get the measles vaccine at:

  • 12 months of age  in the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine 
  • 18 months of age – in the combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.

The measles vaccine is available as a catch-up for anyone who has not been fully vaccinated.

This includes:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • refugees and asylum seekers over age 10
  • babies under 6 months who are travelling to areas where there are known outbreaks of measles.

Side effects from vaccines are uncommon and usually mild but may include:

  • pain and swelling where the needle was injected
  • a faint, red rash
  • swollen throat glands
  • a low temperature
  • feeling unsettled and sleepy.

Speak to your local doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the measles vaccine.

Not every child can have the measles vaccine. Speak to your doctor if your child has is undergoing cancer treatment or taking medication that lowers their body’s ability to fight illness and infection

Stopping the spread of measles

The best way to stop the spread of measles is to get vaccinated.

If you are caring for a child with measles, you will need to practise strict hygiene. 

This includes:

  • washing hands frequently with soap and water, always before and after handling and preparing food, going to the toilet, and changing your child’s nappy
  • not sharing cups, water bottles and cutlery
  • encouraging your child to cough or sneeze into a tissue or the inside of their elbow.

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE)

SSPE is an extremely rare and fatal condition caused by measles.

It develops seven years after your child is infected with measles and causes the brain to progressively stop working properly before causing death.

SSPE happens in about one in every 100,000 cases of measles.

Last updated Thursday 18th January 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024