Measles is caused by a virus and spreads very easily through the air by sneezing or coughing, and can also be spread by contact with contaminated surfaces (from an infected person’s nose and throat secretions). Measles infection can be serious, with complications including diarrhoea (which can lead to dehydration), ear infections, pneumonia (which is the most common cause of death) and encephalitis (brain inflammation; which can cause brain damage). Measles can affect children and adults.

People with measles are infectious 5 days before and until 5 days after the rash appears. The illness usually starts 10-14 days after you have been exposed, if you have measles you'll get the following symptoms: a fever, a cough, a runny nose, sore and watery pink eyes and sometimes small white spots appear on the back inner cheek of your mouth.

At around day 3-7 a blotchy rash which tends to start on the face before moving over your head and body. The rash can last for up to a week.


The best prevention aganist measles is the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Vaccines are free for children and adults who have not previously received two doses of the vaccine. Vaccination is also important if you are planning to travel anywhere overseas.

If you or someone in your family may have measles, contact your family doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 as soon as possible.

Further information

Further information on measles is available by visiting the following websites.

Ministry of Health | Measles

Health Navigator | Measles

Last updated 4 March 2019.