Measles: what you need to know

There is growing concern over a possible outbreak of Measles in London and the South East.


Since February there have been 20 cases, according to Public Health England, compared to 91 total cases throughout the UK last year. The most affected age group is young adults, who needed hospital treatment to recover.


To avoid a repeat of the 2013 Swansea outbreak, during which 1,219 individuals were infected, it is advised that you ensure you are fully vaccinated.


The cases so far have predominantly affected those in their 20s and 30s, which is concerning as the disease is more serious in adults than it is in children. So far 12 cases have been reported in London, 3 in Cambridge, 3 in Hertfordshire, and 2 in Essex. All cases have been caused by the same strain of virus, which suggests the infections are linked.


babylon’s Dr. Matt Noble says:

“If you have not already had two doses of the MMR vaccination, speak to a GP now and find out what you need to do to get vaccinated.”


What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. It is now uncommon in the UK because the MMR vaccination has proved highly effective, and it can affect anyone who has not previously had it and has not been vaccinated. It usually passes in 7-10 days without causing lasting problems, although it can in some rare cases cause pneumonia or encephalitis.


What are the signs?

The first signs of measles develop 10 days after infection has taken place. Symptoms include:

Cold-like symptoms, including a cough, runny nose, sneezing

Sore, red eyes that can be sensitive to light

A high temperature of up to 40C (104F)

Small greyish white spots on the inside of the cheeks

A few days after these symptoms a red blotchy rash will appear, usually starting at the head or neck before spreading to the rest of the body.


What are the treatments?

You should speak to a GP as soon as you suspect you or your child might have measles. If you choose to see your GP in person it’s better to inform them in advance as they may make special arrangements to minimise the risk of spreading the infection to others.

You should also speak to a GP if you have come into contact with someone who has measles and you have not been fully vaccinated.


If you have measles you can help to treat your symptoms and minimise the risk of spreading the infection by:

  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce fever and aches
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Closing the curtains to avoid light sensitivity
  • Cleaning the eyes with damp cotton wool
  • Staying away from work or school for at least 4 days after the rash first appears

If complications arise you or your child may need to be admitted to hospital.


Does it cause ongoing issues?

Most of the time measles is not pleasant, but it will pass in 7-10 days. In these cases it’s a case of treating the symptoms and letting the virus run its course.


You should go to your nearest A&E if you or your child show signs of:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sharp chest pain that feels worse when breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Unusual confusion
  • Fits or convulsions

    These are signs of a serious bacterial infection, which will require a hospital admission and treatment with antibiotics.


Common complications include:

  • Diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Ear infection/earache
  • Eye infection
  • Laryngitis, or inflammation of the voice box
  • Pneumonia, bronchitis, or croup – all infections of the airways or lungs
  • Febrile seizures, or fits

    1 in 15 children will develop complications like these.


In rare cases measles can lead to infection of the optic nerve - which can lead to loss of eyesight, ongoing heart problems, a fatal brain complication which can occur years after measles – however, this only occurs in 1 out of every 25,000 cases.

If you are pregnant measles can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, premature birth, or low birth weight. If you are pregnant and you have come into contact with someone with measles and you know you’re not immune it’s essential that you speak to a GP as soon as possible.