Measles symptoms, treatments and preventions you need to know

Everything you need to know about the highly-contagious disease

measles in children
(Image credit: Getty/gdinMika)

Measles is a highly-contagious viral disease that is common in children and often identified by the measles rash.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of cases in Europe last year reached highest number for a decade.

Despite the increase in children being vaccinated, Public Health England (PHE) data shows that a total of 913 cases of measles were registered between January and October 2018 in England and Wales.

If your child is not vaccinated, then there is a 90 per cent chance they will contract measles themselves if exposed to someone already infected.

Even in the UK, where medical aid is highly developed, one in every 15 children with measles will have complications – which can sometimes be fatal.

If you're worried that you or your child may have contracted measles have a read through the guide below…

Measles symptoms

Much like the common cold, measles usually starts with a cough and feeling generally unwell. Key symptoms to look out for initially are:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sore or swollen red eyes
  • Fever
  • Aches and pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Small grey-white spots on the inside of the cheeks

Following these common symptoms a rash will usually develop after a couple of days. This will be made up of small reddish brown spots, which may join together in blotches or patches. Look out for it on the neck and head, as it usually starts on these areas.

Measles treatment

If you suspect you or you child has measles you should see your doctor immediately. Call ahead in case your doctors' surgery needs to make arrangements to minimise the risk of spreading the disease.

Once your doctor has confirmed the diagnosis there are a few things you can do to relieve the symptoms. Try:

  • Using paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down a high temperature or fever and relieve aches or pains
  • Drink plenty of fluids to make sure your child doesn't dehydrate with a fever and to keep their throat comfortable
  • Treat sore eyes with a cotton ball soaked in warm water and hold over their eyelids to clean away crustiness
  • Keep lights dimmed and curtains closed if their eyes are aching

If your child has cold-like symptoms too, then treat as you normally would. Warm baths and plenty of fluids will help keep them comfortable.

Measles complications

If complications do arise in those suffering from measles it can be potentially life-threatening, so it's really important to look out for the signs and symptoms of this.

If your child has a shortness of breath, sharp chest pains, is coughing up blood, feels drowsy or confused, or they're having fits then the NHS advise taking your child straight to A&E or calling and ambulance on 999.

How measles is spread

Measles is really easily spread, so if your child has caught it then you'll have to keep them off of school until they're better. This usually lasts about 7-10 days after the first symptoms appear but seek specific case-by-case advice from your GP.

Much like a cough, measles is spread through mucus or saliva when someone infected coughs or sneezes. And it's possible to pick up the virus from a surface where droplets have settled, too, as it can survive for a few hours outside of the body.

How to prevent measles

Measles is now uncommon in the UK, since the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine became widely available.

All children are eligible and they will be given their first dose at around 13 months and their second shot just before they start school.

Vaccines are available at any time for older children and adults.

Rosie Conroy
Food Writer

Rosie is an experienced food and drinks journalist who has spent over a decade writing about restaurants, cookery, and foodie products. Previously Content Editor at and Digital Food Editor on Woman&Home, Rosie is well used to covering everything from food news through to taste tests. Now, as well as heading up the team at SquareMeal - the UK's leading guide to restaurants and bars - she also runs a wedding floristry business in Scotland called Lavender and Rose.