Measles outbreak: What are the symptoms and can it be treated?

Measles outbreak: What are the symptoms and can it be treated?

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has called for urgent action to be taken to stop further outbreaks of measles across the country.

The health body has urged parents to check if their children have had the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations as cases surge.

There have been 216 confirmed and 103 probable measles cases in the West Midlands since last October. Around 80 per cent of cases were identified in Birmingham and about 10 per cent in Coventry, with the majority being in children aged under 10.

Now, professor Dame Jenny Harries has stressed “immediate action” must be taken to “boost MMR uptake.”

Here, we take a look at everything you need to know about measles, from signs and symptoms to treatment options.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that if left untreated can lead to serious complications, the NHS states.

Anyone can get measles if they have not been vaccinated or haven’t had it before. However, it is most common in young children.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of measles develop 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

The first symptoms, which usually last 4 to 7 days include:

• A running nose

• A cough

• Red and watery eyes

• Small white spots inside the cheeks.

Some children develop ’Koplik’s spots’ – tiny white spots on a red background inside the mouth – a day or two before a blotchy red-brown skin rash may appear

This usually starts on the head or upper neck before spreading outwards to the rest of the body, the NHS states.

Map reveals where measles cases are surging across the UK

What are some of the complications of measles?

The NHS says measles can lead to serious problems if it spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain.

Complications of measles can cause:


• Meningitis

• Blindness

• Seizures (fits)

How does measles spread?

According to the NHS, the measles virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

This means you can easily catch measles by breathing in these droplets or by touching a surface the droplets have settled on and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth.

People with measles are infectious from when the symptoms develop until about four days after the rash first appears.

Can measles be prevented?

The most effective way of preventing measles is through the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Most children in the UK receive the MMR immunisation; the first dose is offered at 13 months and the second at three years and four months.

Adults and older children can be vaccinated at any age if they haven't been fully vaccinated before.

For more information about the vaccination, the NHS advises to consult your GP.

You can find out more about the dangers of unvaccinated children here.

How is it treated?

The NHS says that there are several things you can do to help relieve your symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

These include:

  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever, aches and pains (aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old)

  • Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration

  • Closing the curtains to help reduce light sensitivity

  • Using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes

  • Staying off school or work for at least 4 days from when the rash first appears

In severe cases, especially if there are complications, you or your child may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

For more information, visit the NHS website here.