Measles

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The following information has been provided to the University by the North Yorkshire Health Protection Unit.

What is measles?

Measles is an infection caused by a virus (germ) and can typically cause a rash (from day four of the illness) starting on the face and behind the ears, then spreading down the body.

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Cold or catarrh symptoms, including runny nose, sore throat and runny eyes
  • Dry croupy cough
  • White Koplik's spots on the gums (on the second and third day)
  • Diarrhoea, often in the early stages in children

Are there complications?

Yes. Serious complications of measles infection can occur, such as ear infections (approximately 1 in 20), bronchitis or pneumonia (approximately 1 in 25), convulsions (approximately 1 in 200), and in rare cases, encephalitis or meningitis (approximately 1 in 1,000).

Complications are much commoner in:

  • Pregnant women, who may miscarry
  • Babies
  • Those with immune system problems

Injections are available to protect people in these risk groups. Contact your doctor for further advice.

Who does it affect?

Anyone who has not developed natural immunity or been vaccinated against measles. Babies up to approximately six months are usually protected by their mother's antibodies, provided mum has had measles or a measles vaccine.

How do you get measles?

Measles is highly infectious and you can catch it, if you are not immune, by being in close contact with someone who already has the infection. The virus is passed in the secretions of the infected person's nose and throat and is spread by sneezing and coughing. It is possible to catch measles from direct contact with articles, such as hankies, which have been contaminated by these infected secretions.

What should I do if I have been in contact with measles?

Inform your GP. If you have had measles before or been fully vaccinated, you will not catch measles. Injections are available to protect those at high risk of complications.

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I am pregnant, is there a risk to my baby?

If you are fully vaccinated or have had measles, you will be protected. Pregnant women who catch measles suffer more complications, such as pneumonia, and there is a risk of losing the baby if you are very unwell.

If you know that you have been in close contact with someone who has measles, and you are not immune, you need to take advice from your GP or midwife as soon as possible. Immunoglobulin injections can be given to pregnant women to reduce the risk of infection. The greatest risks are when you live in the same house as someone with measles or have kissed or had face to face contact.

How do you prevent measles?

By immunisation. MMR is a safe and effective vaccine, which protects against measles, as well as mumps and rubella. A child needs two doses of this vaccine: one at 15 to 18 months and a second dose pre-school. Protection lasts for a lifetime.

Do I need to stay away from department/work if I have measles?

Yes, measles is infectious from just before the symptoms first occur and for approximately four days after the appearance of the rash. The advice is to stay away from your department or work for five days from the onset of the rash.

Can measles be treated?

There is no specific treatment for measles but an appropriate medicine to help bring down a high temperature should be used. If treating a child, do not use aspirin. For a very high temperature, sponge down with tepid water.

If you think you or your child has measles, contact your GP or NHS Choices on 111 for advice. Be sure to mention to health care staff that you think you may have measles.