19 Mar, 2024

Everything you need to know about measles

Two young Pacific boys in park

Aotearoa is at a high risk of a measles outbreak. Measles is a very dangerous illness for those who are not vaccinated, especially pepe, children under 5, pregnant people and those with weak immune systems. In this resource we will cover the symptoms and complications associated with measles, how the disease spreads, and how to best protect yourself.

The first and most important way to protect ourselves is by knowing what symptoms to look out for and by stopping the spread of the disease. Below are some of the common symptoms of measles:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore red eyes
  • Red or pink rash: The spots are blotchy and join together. It usually starts on the face, or behind the ears and then moves down the rest of the body. It can last for a week or more.

How measles spreads

Measles spreads through coughing and sneezing. Anyone who has not received at least 2 doses of a measles vaccine or has not already had the disease is at risk of catching and spreading measles. You can still get and spread measles with only 1 dose of the vaccine.

Some people are at higher risk for complications from measles. Children under the age of 5, pregnant people and immunocompromised people can be at higher risk of these complications:

  • ear infections
  • pneumonia
  • swelling of the brain (encephalitis) — this is rare but can cause permanent brain damage or death
  • weakened immune system for up to 3 years after measles, leading to more infections such as chest infections.

Measles during pregnancy

If you get measles during pregnancy, it can be very dangerous for your pepe. It can sometimes cause miscarriage or even early labour. If you were vaccinated against measles before your pregnancy, you are most likely safe and protected. If you have not been vaccinated, you should not have it while pregnant. If you are worried you might have caught measles, contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.

What to do if you think you or whānau may have measles

  • Call your doctor or Healthline for advice as soon as possible
  • Call your health provider before you visit them. It is easily spread, so your doctor will need to protect themselves and others before you visit them.
  • Your doctor will usually check if you have a measles rash and might also look for white spots in your mouth.

After visiting your doctor:

  • If you have measles or have been in contact with someone who has had measles, the public health service will contact you to let you know what to do.
  • They will support you with advice on how to keep you and your whānau safe during your illness.
  • If you have measles, you must isolate (stay at home and not go out at all) for at least 4 days after your rash appears to avoid giving it to others.

Treatment for measles

There is no treatment for measles once the symptoms have started. Your doctor will give you advice on how to care for your symptoms.

If you or whānau becomes more unwell, you may need to go to the hospital for treatment.

How can I protect myself and whānau from measles?

The MMR vaccination provides protection from measles, mumps and rubella. Two doses of the MMR vaccine provides lifelong protection against measles in 99 out of 100 vaccinated people. If you are wondering whether you need the vaccine, call your doctor for more information. It is available from your doctor and is free for anyone 18 or younger, and those eligible for free healthcare in New Zealand.

Who to contact for medical advice

  • Contact your usual doctor or healthcare provider  
  • Call Healthline for free advice 0800 611 116
  • Call 111 for an ambulance in an emergency.   

We urge you and your whānau to take this information seriously and to spread it amongst all those you care.