Measles is a highly infectious, acute viral illness caused by the Morbillivirus. The virus lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of infected people, and spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes.
Although many people regard measles as a relatively minor disease, it can cause serious complications, particularly in very young children. One in every 15 children with measles develops pneumonia, and one in 1,000 develops inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). For every 10 children who contract encephalitis, one will die and up to four will have permanent brain damage.
Measles is transmitted easily through the air in respiratory droplets, usually through coughing or sneezing. The measles virus is highly contagious, and can survive in the air or on hard surfaces such as door handles for up to two hours.
The symptoms of measles take between 10 and 14 days to show after infection and include: a blotchy red rash, fever, coughing, a runny nose, and inflamed red eyes. The measles rash usually begins on the face and neck and spreads over the body, during which time the person generally feels very unwell and can run a high fever. The rash tends to disappear after about six days.
Complications of measles include middle ear infections and laryngitis, as well as more serious infections such as pneumonia and encephalitis, which can lead to brain damage and death. Complications are more common and more severe in people with a chronic illness and in very young children.
Measles is a vaccine preventable disease, and the two-dose vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. The measles vaccine is free on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule. To receive measles immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that although the vaccine is provided at no cost, a consultation fee may apply.
Immunisation against measles is achieved using the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and MMRV (measles-mumps-rubella-varicella) combination vaccines. The first dose is given at 12 months of age as the MMR vaccine, and the second dose is given at 18 months of age as the MMRV vaccine.
The MMRV vaccine replaces the separate MMR vaccine given to four year olds, and the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine given to 18 month olds. Under the NIP, the schedule for vaccination against these diseases is:
12 months of age: MMR
18 months of age: MMRV
4 years of age: children will still require a vaccine to protect against other serious infections including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio.
However, if your child was aged over 18 months on 1 July 2013, they will receive the second dose at four years of age as the MMR vaccine, as per the previous NIP schedule. This schedule point will remain until 31 December 2015.
The MMRV vaccine reduces the total number of injections for children by one, and will provide earlier two-dose protection for children against measles, mumps and rubella.
- For information about immunisation in your area, contact your state or territory health department.
- For further information on routine childhood immunisation, refer to the understanding childhood immunisation booklet.
- For technical information or information about vaccines, refer to the measles section of the Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th edition 2013.
- For more information on the MMRV vaccine for parents please see the MMRV parent brochure.
- For more information on the MMRV vaccine for immunisation providers please see the MMRV information for providers booklet.