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Measles, mumps and rubella

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. The illness causes a range of symptoms including fever, coughing and distinctive red-brown spots.

The infection is spread through the air through droplets of saliva. You can catch measles through direct contact with an infected person, or through the air when they cough or sneeze. The droplets can also survive and remain contagious on surfaces for a few hours.

Measles is most common among children aged between one and four years of age, but anyone who has not been immunised against the condition can catch it.

Symptoms of the measles appear 9-11 days after the infection begins, and last up to 14 days. The condition is most infectious after the first symptoms have appeared and before the rash has developed.

Treatment for measles is normally not necessary because the body's immune system (defence against viruses) can usually fight off infection in a couple of weeks. Typically, once somebody has fought off the measles infection, they develop immunity to it.


Complications of measles include:

  • pneumonia,
  • ear and eye infections, and
  • croup (an infection of the lungs and throat).

More serious complications, such as inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), are more rare, but can be fatal. There are one million deaths worldwide from measles every year.

MMR vaccine

The most effective way of preventing measles is the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which also provides protection against two other potentially fatal childhood conditions, mumps and rubella. The success of the MMR vaccine means that, in the UK, cases of measles are rare.

However, in recent years, the number of cases of measles has been increasing. For example, there were 739 cases in 2006, compared with 70 cases during 2001.

It is thought that the rise in the number of cases of measles is the result of parents not getting their child vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. This is probably due to speculation linking MMR to autism (a condition that affects the development of the brain, and can lead to problems in communication and social interaction).

Publicity in 1998 highlighted a report claiming a link between the MMR jab and autism. However, numerous studies undertaken to investigate this claim found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Reproduced under the terms of Click-Use Licence number C2009000382. The content of this page has been published under a Click-Use Licence (link this to which covers the use of core Crown copyright information. The original material can be found on NHS Choices.