Measles is a virus that can cause serious complications in very young children, and is also sometimes called rubella.
What causes measles?
Measles is caused by a virus that lives in the mouth and nose of kids who are infected. When an infected child coughs or sneezes, the virus enters the air. Measles is highly contagious and kids can get measles just from being in the same room with another child who has the illness.
Is measles serious?
Complications from measles can be serious. About one third of kids who get measles will have complications such as ear infections, diarrhoea or pneumonia. Serious complications may include encephalitis.
Can I prevent measles?
The best way to prevent measles is by having your child vaccinated with two doses of the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine. The vaccine is given at twelve months and again at four years. If your child develops measles, keep him home until he is no longer infectious – about four days after the rash appears.
How do I know if my child has measles?
Measles is characterised by a telltale rash which usually starts on the face and can spread to the rest of the body. Before the rash appears, your child may have been feeling unwell for several days. He may have a fever, runny nose, and cough. The rash appears about two weeks after your child has been exposed to measles. He will be contagious from just before symptoms appear until about four days after the rash develops.
How do I treat measles?
There really is no specific treatment for measles. If you know your child has been exposed to measles and has not been vaccinated, you may still be able to prevent the infection by having him vaccinated within 72 hours of exposure. If your child does develop measles, just keep him comfortable until his symptoms go away. Use paracetamol for fever, body aches and headache, and keep him away from other kids so the illness doesn’t spread.
Should I call the doctor?
Since measles is very contagious, you should notify people your child has had contact with. Doctors, child care centres and schools have to notify the government whenever a case of measles has been confirmed to prevent the spread to other people.
What you need to know about measles
- Measles is a serious disease that has all but been eliminated due to vaccinations.
- Measles is prevented by the MMR vaccine.
- A measles infection lasts about ten days.
- Measles is so contagious you can get it from just being in the same room as an infected person.
For more information visit the Ministry of Health's Measles page.
Find more relevant articles and information about polio
- Learn more about viral infections
- Learn more about fevers
- Learn more about childhood vaccines
- What are mumps?
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Thursday, 23 October 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.