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What is the measles virus?

Page last updated 23 March 2020

Measles is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus known as Morbillivirus. It causes a skin rash, which usually begins on the face and the spreads down to cover the entire body, and flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, and runny nose.

Measles can be a severe illness – serious complications are much more common in young children (under 5 years of age), in the chronically ill and in adults. 60% of deaths from measles are caused by the development of pneumonia, especially in the young, and from encephalitis (brain swelling), particularly in adults. Measles during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature labour, and/or babies may have a low birth weight. In a small number of cases, measles may also be fatal.

Sources & Citations

  1. World Health Organisation. Measles. Available at (accessed 10 March 2020).
  2. Australian Government, Department of Health. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Measles. Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).
  3. Victoria State Government. Better Health Channel. Measles. Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).
  4. NSW Government. Measles Fact Sheet. Available at: (accessed 10 March 2020).
  5. 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.

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