Department of Health

What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. People generally develop symptoms of measles 7 to 18 days after being in contact with an infectious person.

The first symptoms of a measles infection include:

  • fever (≥38°C)
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • sore red eyes
  • tiredness

A blotchy red rash appears about three to four days later (with fever present), usually starting on the face before spreading to the body. The rash generally lasts four to seven days. People with measles can become very unwell and often require hospitalisation.

How is measles spread?

Measles is usually spread through breathing in droplets containing virus that have been coughed or sneezed into

the air by an infectious person. It can also be spread through direct contact with secretions from the nose or throat of an infectious person. Measles is easily spread, and the virus can persist in the environment for 30 minutes.

How long does a person remain infectious?

People with measles are infectious 24 hours before symptoms begin until four days after the rash appears.

How long will it take before I become unwell?

If you are not immune, the time from exposure to becoming unwell is usually about 10 days but can range from 7 to 18 days. The rash usually appears 14 days after exposure.

Am I susceptible to measles?

If you have documented evidence of measles illness in the past or a record of two vaccinations against measles, you are considered immune.

People who are susceptible to contracting measles are:

  • Children <6 months, if the mother is not immune to measles (never vaccinated or infected)
  • Children 6-12 months of age (who have not had a measles vaccine)
  • Any children with no documented evidence of having received a measles vaccine
  • Adults born during or after 1966 with no documented evidence of having received two measles vaccines
  • People who are immunocompromised (e.g. those with cancer, on chemotherapy or high-dose steroids)

What if I am unsure of my vaccination status?

Contact your general practitioner (GP) or local council to determine if they have your vaccination record (if you were vaccinated by them). In addition, if you were born after 1996 in Australia, your vaccination record is held in the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), regardless of where you were vaccinated.

What can I do to avoid getting measles?

If you have been in contact with someone with confirmed measles and you are susceptible to measles, you may be able to reduce the risk of becoming infected. The time since your contact will determine the appropriate action. Discuss your options with your GP as soon as possible. Below are the possible actions:

Within 3 days (or 72 hours) of first contact

You can receive a free measles vaccine (except if you are pregnant, immunocompromised, allergic to the vaccine or aged less than 6 months old).

Between 3 and 6 days (73 to 144 hours) of first contact

Babies, pregnant women and immunocompromised people can receive an immunoglobulin injection, which is sourced from blood donations. Be aware that this may not completely prevent you from developing measles but may reduce the likelihood of illness or reduce the severity of illness if you do develop measles.

Six or more days after first contact

The time to receive appropriate post-exposure protection has elapsed. If you think you may be susceptible to measles, discuss this with your GP as soon as possible. Monitor yourself for signs and symptoms of measles for 18 days after your contact with the case, as it may take up to 18 days for symptoms to develop. It is important to avoid contact with anyone who is susceptible to measles (e.g. babies less than 12 months of age, pregnant women or immunocompromised people). We recommend avoiding all public spaces during this time to spread to vulnerable Victorians. This means avoiding shopping centres, public transport, children’s services centres and similar places.

What do I do if I think I have measles?

If you develop any symptoms of measles, make an appointment with your GP. Wear a mask to your appointment and call ahead to inform the practice when booking that you have been exposed to a confirmed case of measles, now have symptoms of measles and need to be isolated on arrival or ask for a home visit if possible. If this is not possible, try to get the last appointment of the day to avoid coming into contact with other patients in the waiting room. Take this information sheet with you to your appointment.

You may need to go to a hospital if you are very unwell. Wear a mask when you attend and inform the Emergency Department prior to your arrival that you have been exposed to a confirmed case of measles and should be isolated on arrival. Inform the triage nurse when you arrive that you may have measles and should be isolated. You can also call the department for advice.

What tests will my doctor do?

The most common tests your doctor will consider are a blood sample to check for antibodies and a nose or throat swab or a urine sample to check for the presence of the measles virus.

I am pregnant, what should I do?

Contact your GP or obstetrician and discuss whether you are susceptible to measles. Pregnant women who become infected with measles can be at risk of more severe illness, potential miscarriage, early delivery or stillbirth. Measles virus is not known to cause birth defects in babies. Susceptible pregnant women who are contacts of a case of measles can receive immunoglobulin (up to six days after first contact) to help protect them from becoming unwell.

Further information

For further information contact your GP or the Department of Health on 1300 651 160.

Reviewed 18 November 2022


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