Family Health Diary

With the latest measles outbreak people are asking their local pharmacists questions about measles:

How do I catch it? What are the symptoms of measles? How do I keep my family safe?

The reason a measles outbreak is such a worry is that measles is very easy to catch, and in some cases, it can be deadly.

Doctors say it is the most easy to catch of all contagious diseases. You catch it from little droplets in the air that the other person breathed or sneezed out of their mouth. The person you catch it from might not know they have measles yet. You literally only need to be in the same room with a person to catch measles from them. The virus will live for up to 2 hours on surfaces the person sneezed onto, so they might not even be in the room anymore and you can still catch it from them.

A United States government site says: “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”


After you are in contact with those little airborne droplets it is about 10 days before you start to feel unwell.

The first symptoms are 2-4 days of fever, conjunctivitis (inflammation in the eye), and maybe a few white spots inside the mouth. The red measles rash usually starts behind the ear on day 3 to 7. The rash spreads over the next few days to the face, head, then over the rest of your body and then legs and arms. The rash lasts for up to one week. The person feels most unwell for the first day or two after the rash appears.

Remember that if someone you know has measles, you can catch it from them from before they know they are unwell. They are contagious from 5 days before they get a rash until 5 days after the rash starts.

How bad is it really / why should I immunise?

Complications are common with measles. Patients may contract an ear infection, pneumonia, croup, diarrhoea or inflammation in the sinuses, the lungs, or the heart.

One in every 1,000 patients with measles gets encephalitis (inflammation in the brain). This might not sound many but 15% of the people who get measles encephalitis die. Another 25-35% are left with permanent brain damage.

One in every ten people with measles are admitted to hospital. And one in every thousand people who get measles dies, even after proper treatment.

The only way to protect those you love from measles is to have them vaccinated. The risk of complications from the vaccine is very very much lower than the chance of a person dying from complications of measles

The best protection against measles is to have two doses of the MMR vaccination, which is seen as 97% effective.

If you were born between 1969 and 1992 you may be at a greater risk. This is because it was standard practice at this time to give just one dose. If you are between the ages of 29 and 50 you would’ve only received one dose.

If you’re unsure if you’ve been fully immunised, talk to your doctor or local healthcare service, as you are entitled to a second one free of charge (Practice nurse fees may apply).

For more information or advice on measles, please call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or see the Ministry of Health’s measles page.

Written by Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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