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What is it and how is it treated?

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. Worldwide, it causes thousands of deaths per year, and can be very serious, particularly in children. Once somebody has been infected with measles, no specific treatments are available and instead they must wait for the virus to disappear naturally.1

Travel is partly responsible for the spread of measles across the world,2 so it is vital for travellers to be protected against developing measles. While the disease can be found all over the world, it is most often found in Asia, Africa, parts of India and South America. However, measles outbreaks have occurred in several developed countries, including the UK and other parts of Europe.1

Who is at risk?

If you have never had measles, or haven’t been vaccinated against it, you may be at a higher risk of being infected when visiting countries where the disease has been reported. The risk is even higher if you will be spending time with local people, or in large groups.1,2

What are the symptoms?

The early symptoms of measles can include a fever, runny nose, red and sore eyes and a cough. After this, a rash typically appears that starts at the head and then spreads to the body, arms and legs over three or four days.2

Measles infection can also cause other health problems, including ear infections, diarrhoea and fits. Rarely, measles can cause swelling of the brain and other problems that can potentially be fatal.2

How is it spread?

Measles is passed from person to person through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.1 People with the infection can pass it on to others from the moment they start to show symptoms until four days after the rash has appeared.2

How can it be prevented?

Vaccines can help to prevent measles.2 In the UK, two doses of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are given as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule. At-risk travellers who have not already received two doses of vaccine may need to be vaccinated.1

People who have been infected with measles before will have lifelong protection against being infected again. 1

Where can I get further information?

Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.

After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.

  1. Fit For Travel. Measles. Available at: Accessed August 2017.
  2. Travel Health Pro. Measles. Available at: Accessed August 2017.

Date of preparation: November 2017