1. ITV Report

Measles: How it's caught, symptoms and treatment

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications.

It's now uncommon in the UK because of the effectiveness of vaccination but there has been a recent rise in cases at festivals, including Glastonbury Festival leading to a reminder for people to get vaccinated.

The measles rash appears a few days after people start feeling unwell Credit: NHS Choices
  • Who can catch measles?

Anyone can get measles if they haven't been vaccinated or they haven't had it before, although it's most common in young children.

  • How long does it last?

The infection usually clears in around 7 to 10 days.

Credit: PA
  • How do you catch measles?

The measles virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

You can easily catch measles by breathing in these droplets or, if the droplets have settled on a surface, by touching the surface and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth. The virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours.

People with measles are infectious from when the symptoms develop until about four days after the rash first appears.

Sore eyes and conjunctivitis are symptoms of measles Credit: NHS Choices
  • What are the symptoms?

The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after you're infected. These can include:

  • Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
  • Sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • A high temperature (fever) that may reach 40 C
  • Small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks
  • A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear. It usually starts on the head or neck before spreading outwards to the rest of the body
  • Should I contact the doctor?

Get in touch with your GP as soon as possible if you suspect measles.

It's best to phone before your visit as your GP surgery may need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

You should also see your doctor if you've been in close contact with someone who has measles and you've not been fully vaccinated (had two doses of the MMR vaccine) or haven't had the infection before.

  • How dangerous is measles?

Once you've had measles, your body builds up resistance (immunity) to the virus and it's highly unlikely you'll get it again.

However, measles can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications in some people. These include infections of the lungs (pneumonia) and brain (encephalitis).

  • How do you treat measles?

There are several things you can do to help relieve your symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection, including:

  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever, aches and pains – aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old
  • Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Closing the curtains to help reduce light sensitivity
  • Using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
  • Staying off school or work for at least four days from when the rash first appears
  • In severe cases, you or your child may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment
Someone being vaccinated against measles Credit: PA
  • How can you prevent measles?

Measles can be prevented by having the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It is given in two does

If the MMR vaccine isn't suitable, a treatment called human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) can be used if at immediate risk of catching measles.

  • For more information about measles contact NHS Choices