Measles symptoms and information

Measles rashMeasles is a mainly childhood disease that periodically hits the headlines - most recently after a large outbreak in south Wales. So, what are the symptoms of measles and how does it spread?

What is measles?

It's a highly contagious virus spread by airborne droplets. When an infected child or adult coughs or sneezes, they spread the droplets through mucus or saliva and other people are infected by breathing them in. You can also catch measles by kissing or touching someone who is infected, for example by wiping their nose.

The measles virus can live on surfaces for up to two hours. So, again, if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your nose or mouth, you can catch it.

The most common age for catching measles is between one and four. A child is infectious from about two to four days before the rash appears to around four days after. 

What are measles symptoms?

Early symptoms usually only appear around 10 days after someone has become infected. This can vary from a week to more than two weeks. Early symptoms mimic other viruses before the measles rash appears.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach ache
  • Conjuctivitis
  • Small red spots with white centres inside the mouth

A reddish-brown, blotchy but non-itchy rash appears a few days after the first symptoms. It often starts on the face, and then spreads to the whole of the body.

Measles symptoms can last anywhere between six and 10 days. The rash usually takes about a week to fade.

How long should a child with measles stay off school or nursery?

The Health Protection Agency says children with measles should stay away from other children for four days after the rash appears.

Measles is a 'notifiable' disease, which means that if your GP thinks your child has measles by law he or she has to report it.


Common complications include:

  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhoea

Less common complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Febrile convulsions (fits caused by a high temperature)

And there are some rare, nasty and potentially fatal complications, involving inflammation of the brain and complications of the nervous system. This latter can occur months and years after the initial measles infection.

Measles during pregnancy

If you're pregnant and catch measles, there's a risk (but only a risk, please try not to panic) of miscarriage, premature birth or low birth weight.

Caring for a child with measles

BUPA's measles factsheet says that if one person has measles, nine out of 10 people who aren't immunised and in close contact with the infected person will catch it. 

Children with measles can feel pretty poorly as the symptoms develop, so the main thing is to ensure they're getting enough fluids and rest.

Don't give aspirin to children under 16. Baby or child paracetamol can be used to ease the symptoms.

Once your child has had measles, they can't catch it again, thankfully.

What Mumsnetters say about childhood measles

  • You'll be infectious before you show any clear symptoms: achy, a bit of a cough, a bit sniffly, maybe a sore throat, a bit grizzly and tired. PrettyCandlesAndTinselToo
  • You have a raised temperature with measles. GlennCloseAsCruellaDeVille
  • Measles isn't itchy. Twiglett
  • The surefire diagnosis is the koplik spots (which look like white spots) in the mouth. Hatrick
  • Measles can be fatal. It can cause blindness, deafness and brain damage. Ronshar
  • My daughter had it and it left her with hearing problems. Nymphadora
  • The main problem with measles is that it lowers the immune system, which is why secondary infections can be a problem. Yurt1


This page was published in July 2013

Last updated: over 1 year ago