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Measles cases are rising in England and have been seen in every region of the country.

Measles NHS poster

Since 1 October 2023, there has been an increase in measles cases across England, with a disproportionately high rate seen in the West Midlands. There have been 650 laboratory confirmed measles cases reported in England over the last five months and The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) predicts that without intervention measles cases will continue to rise in all regions.

what is MEASLES and how does it spread?

Measles is not just a childhood disease and can be serious at any age. It is a highly contagious, airborne infection caused by a morbillivirus of the paramyxovirus family. Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions. Spending more than 15 minutes in direct contact with someone infected with measles is sufficient to transmit the virus. A person with measles can spread the infection in the 4 days before they get the rash until 4 days after they develop their rash. It takes from 7 to 18 days (average 10 to 12 days) after exposure for a person to develop measles infection.

What are the symptoms?

Measles usually starts with cold-like symptoms. The first symptoms of measles include:

  • a high temperature

  • a runny or blocked nose

  • sneezing

  • a cough

  • red, sore, watery eyes

Small white spots (known as Koplik's spots) may appear inside the cheeks and on the back of the lips a few days later. These spots usually last a few days.

A rash usually appears a few days after the cold-like symptoms. It starts on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body. The spots of the measles rash can sometimes be raised and may join to form blotchy patches. The rash might be itchy for some people.

Is measles dangerous?

Measles will usually pass in about 7 to 10 days without causing any further problems. However, measles can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications in some people. Younger children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to become seriously unwell. The more serious complications of measles can include:

  • blindness

  • encephalitis (an infection causing brain swelling)

  • severe diarrhoea and related dehydration

  • ear infections

  • pneumonia

Moreover, measles infection during pregnancy can result in the loss or early birth of the baby.

How measles can be prevented?

Measles can be prevented by having the MMR vaccine. This is given in two doses as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme but people can be vaccinated at any age if they haven’t been fully vaccinated before. The MMR vaccine is very effective - around 99% of people will be protected against measles. The MMR vaccine also offers protection against mumps and rubella.

Measles is a highly contagious disease
"Measles is a serious illness, and in some cases can lead to having to be admitted to hospital for treatment, so the message is clear: if you or your young ones aren’t vaccinated, you aren’t protected, and it is vital you come forward as soon as possible for the MMR jab."

-Steve Russell, National Director for Vaccinations and Screening at NHS England

Is the MMR vaccine safe?

In the UK, millions of MMR vaccine doses have been given since it was introduced in 1988.The vaccine is safe and although there may be some side effects from vaccination, these are usually short-term, mild and much less severe than the disease itself. The common side effects include fever, rash, loss of appetite, as well as injection site redness, swelling and pain. Serious reactions following vaccination are rare and there's no evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. You can find a full list of side effects in these patient information leaflets:

Is there anyone who should not have the MMR vaccine?

As the MMR vaccine is a live vaccine it shouldn't be given to pregnant women or people who are severely immunosuppressed, for example those who have had a bone marrow transplant or are taking immunosuppressant medicines.

How can I get the MMR vaccine?

Anyone who hasn't had two doses of the MMR vaccine should ask their GP surgery for a vaccination appointment. The MMR vaccine is free of charge on the NHS. Currently there are also MMR walk-in clinics organised in certain parts of England, for example in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.


Visit relevant Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) website to check whether there are any walk-in clinics in your local area.


Remember that it is never too late to have the vaccine if you haven’t had two doses. By getting immunised you will not only be protecting yourself but also those people around you who can't have the vaccine.




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