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Measles is an acute highly infectious viral illness caught through direct contact with an infected person or through the air via droplets from coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cold-like symptoms, fatigue, conjunctivitis and a distinctive red-brown rash.

Measles is one of a number of notifiable diseases in the UK. Any doctor who suspects that a patient has measles is required by law to report it. Measles infection can be prevented by a highly effective and safe vaccine which is part of the measles-mump-rubella (MMR) immunisation. 

Who gets it and how serious is it?

Measles mainly affects young children, but can be caught at any age. Having measles once usually confers lifelong immunity to catching it again.

Measles can be a very serious disease and cause severe, even life-threatening, complications. In the UK, complications are quite common even in healthy people and approximately 20% of reported measles cases experience one or more complication.

Complications are more common among children under 5 years of age, those with weakened immune systems, children with a poor diet and adults. Catching measles in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature labour or a baby with a low birth weight.

Before the introduction of measles vaccination in 1968, around 100 children a year in England and Wales died from the disease.


There is no specific treatment for measles. Treatment should be based on alleviating symptoms. As measles is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective although these may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection develops.

A doctor should be consulted if measles is suspected and anyone with measles should be closely monitored for complications. Hospital treatment may be required if serious complications develop.


Measles can be prevented by a highly effective and safe vaccine. This is part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunisation.

A complete course of the two doses will protect over 95% of children against measles, mumps and rubella. The current immunisation schedule recommends one dose to be given at around 13 months and a second dose given at between 3-5 years of age.

The MMR vaccine has been used for over 30 years (it was introduced in the US in the 1970s), is currently used in over 100 countries, and more than 500 million doses have been given. Studies from around the world have shown MMR to be a highly effective vaccine, with an excellent safety record. 


In 2018, there were 21 confirmed cases of measles in Wales.

Confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales by region and age: 2012 to 2018.

The number of children who have had the MMR vaccination is available in the COVER report.