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What does measles look like?

Page last updated 23 March 2020

While measles is probably best known for its full-body ‘measles rash’, the first symptoms of the infection are usually cough, runny nose, high fever, red eyes and generally feeling unwell (malaise). Koplik's spots (small red spots with blue-white centres) may also develop inside the mouth.

The measles rash breaks out about 2–4 days after symptoms start, starting on the face and moving down the body. The rash is made up of flat red spots, and is not itchy. Sometimes, small, raised spots may also appear on top of the flat spots. In most people the rash will last 4–7 days before fading. A case of measles without complications usually lasts around 14 days.

In some cases, complications may arise, including middle ear infection, diarrhoea, pneumonia (lung infection), encephalitis (brain swelling), and for a minority, the infection may be fatal. There is also an exceptionally rare risk of Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), which may appear approximately seven years after the initial measles infection. SSPE causes progressive brain damage which is often fatal. These complications are generally more common in those with existing chronic (long-term) illness, young children (<5 years of age), and adults.

Sources & Citations

2. World Health Organisation. Measles. Available at (accessed 10 March 2020).

3. Australian Government, Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Measles. Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).

4. Victoria State Government. Better Health Channel. Measles. Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).

5. NSW Government. Measles Fact Sheet. Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. 13th ed. Washington D.C. Public Health Foundation, 2015.

9. healthdirect Australia. What does measles rash look like? Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0133(2)a - Date of preparation March 2020