As COVID-19 restrictions ease, measles outbreaks are likely to happen.
Measles is spreads very quickly and can cause serious complications
Get vaccinated to protect yourself and your loved ones from catching and spreading measles.
What is measles?
Measles is a serious illness caused by the measles virus. It can cause serious complications in children and adults. These include ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of your brain) and death. About 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment.
Measles is still common in many countries. Outbreaks of measles are usually started when someone brings measles into the country. In Aotearoa New Zealand, more than 2,000 people got measles in the 2019 outbreak, 700 had to go to hospital and some died. Māori communities and Pacific peoples were particularly affected.
How does measles spread?
The measles virus spreads easily through the air by sneezing or coughing. It can also be spread by contact with surfaces contaminated with an infected person’s nose and throat secretions (snot and saliva). If you are not immune, and you’ve been in the same room as someone with measles, you are very likely to catch it. It can stay in the air for 2 hours and properly fitted and worn N-95 masks are better at protecting you than surgical masks (the commonly available blue ones).
Watch a video about measles and the MMR vaccine.
(Ministry of Health, 2022)
Why is vaccination so important?
Vaccination is a very effective way of protecting against measles.
Having only 1 dose of the MMR vaccine is not enough protection against measles – you need to have 2 to complete the course. A single dose of MMR gives you a 95% chance of being protected against measles, 2 doses increases this to 99%.
pneumonia – this is the main cause of deaths from measles.
Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) occurs in about 1 in 1000 measles cases, with some of these people dying and 1 in 3 being left with permanent brain damage.
Other complications include sclerosing panencephalitis a degenerative brain disease (which can occur in 1 in 100,000 measles cases), problems with blood clotting, inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, the heart, kidneys or liver.
Contact your doctor or get urgent medical advice if you or someone you know has measles and develops any of these symptoms:
feeling drowsy or you cannot wake them up
coughing up green or yellow thick mucous
having a fit (seizure)
not peeing for 10 hours.
Measles and pregnancy
Pregnant women who become ill with measles during pregnancy are at risk of miscarriage, going into labour early (premature labour) and having babies with low birthweight.
If you are pregnant and think you may have measles, or if you have come into contact with someone with measles, call your doctor or lead maternity carer as soon as possible.
Pregnant women should not be given the measles vaccine during pregnancy but close contacts of pregnant women should be vaccinated to help protect both the mother and unborn baby from exposure.
Who is considered to be immune to measles?
You are considered to be immune to measles if you:
have had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine at the age of 12 months or older
have had the measles in the past
were born before 1 Jan 1969 as the measles disease was common at that time and was circulating widely prior to the introduction of a measles vaccine in 1969.
How is measles treated?
There are no specific treatments for measles and symptoms usually improve after 7–10 days. But there are things you can do to ease your symptoms such as:
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Osman David Mansoor, Medical Officer of Health, Tairawhiti DHB
Last reviewed: 01 Oct 2019
redirect to measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine
Frequently asked questions about measles
Why is measles a serious problem?
Measles can cause serious complications in children and adults. These include ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of your brain) and death. About 1 in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment. Measles is highly contagious. One person with measles can pass on the disease to 13 other people who have not been vaccinated. An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing they have the disease.
What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, cough and sore red eyes, followed by a rash starting behind your ears and spreading around your body a few days later. If you think you have measles, it’s important to call before visiting your doctor to avoid spreading the virus in the waiting room. If you catch measles, you're infectious from 5 days before and until 5 days after the rash appears.
How can I protect myself and my family against measles?
The best way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated on time, with 2 free MMR vaccinations for all children at 15 months and 4 years, as per the immunisation schedule.
Why do I need two doses of the MMR vaccine?
To get the best protection from the MMR vaccine, its important to have two doses of the MMR vaccine. One dose of vaccine is 95% effective against measles and 2 doses are 99% effective. The reason for a second dose is to make sure the 5% who need this second vaccine get immunity.
If you are between the ages of 15 and 29 years, you should check your immunisation records to make sure you received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine as a child.
If you didn’t receive 2 doses, or can’t confirm whether you did or not, you should visit a clinic for a free measles vaccine. There are no undue effects from being vaccinated even if you are immune.
Where can I get vaccinated?
The best place to go for vaccination is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.
How long does it take for the vaccination to work?
It can take around 2 weeks for a person to be fully immune after a vaccination.
How do I know if I have immunity?
You are deemed as having immunity if you:
were born before 1 January 1969 (you are presumed to be immune following exposure to the wild virus)
have documentation of immunity or previous infection
have documentation of 2 doses of measles vaccine.
If in doubt, talk to your GP about getting vaccinated, as there are no undue effects from being vaccinated even if you are immune. Read more
Could I still get measles if I am fully vaccinated?
Very few people (about 3 out of 100), who get 2 doses of measles vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Experts aren’t sure why. It could be that their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine.
But the good news is that fully vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness. And fully vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.
I'm pregnant. Can I get vaccinated against measles?
If you were not immunised against measles before becoming pregnant, you should not receive the MMR vaccine during pregnancy. If you are of childbearing age you should avoid pregnancy for 1 month after having a dose of the MMR vaccine. If you are breastfeeding (and not pregnant) you can receive the MMR vaccine safely. If you were vaccinated against measles prior to becoming pregnant you are almost certainly protected. Read more about measles and pregnancy.
I have been exposed to someone with measles. What should I do?
If you suspect you have measles, phone your GP or Healthline free on 0800 611 116 for advice. Because measles is so infectious (easily passed on to other people), phone first rather than just turning up at your doctor’s clinic. You should:
stay at home as soon as you notice any measles symptoms (flu-like symptoms)
stay home from work, school or daycare for 5 days after the rash appears
not invite other children or visitors to the house
wash your hands regularly – just as you would to prevent germs at any time, use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds then dry well and remind others in your home to do the same.
If you are pregnant
Pregnant women who become ill with measles during pregnancy are at risk of miscarriage, going into labour early (premature labour) and having babies with low birthweight. If you are pregnant and think you may have measles, or if you have come into contact with someone with measles, call your doctor or lead maternity carer as soon as possible. Pregnant women should not be given the measles vaccine during pregnancy but close contacts of pregnant women can be vaccinated to help protect both the mother and unborn baby from exposure.
Nikki Turner discusses the management of measles in New Zealand. Nikki is an academic general practitioner and an associate professor in the Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Auckland. She works part time as a GP in Wellington and is director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC).
Ben Harris, a medical microbiology scientist talks about the following topics:
Can you be fully vaccinated and still catch measles?
When was measles vaccination introduced to NZ?
Why do people born before this date in NZ not have to get vaccinated?\
What are Koplik spots?
What is the measles incubation time?
When is someone with measles infectious?
(Mobile Health, NZ, 2019)
Measles update by Dr Nikki Turner
(The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ, 2019)
Regional HealthPathways NZ
Access to the following regional pathways is localised for each region and access is limited to health providers. If you do not know the login details, contact your DHB or PHO for more information: