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What does measles look like?

Page last updated 26 June 2018

While measles is probably best known for its full-body ‘measles rash’, the first symptoms of the infection are usually associated with a cough, runny nose, high fever, red eyes and generally feeling unwell (malaise). Children who get the disease also may develop Koplik's spots (tiny white spots).

The measles rash breaks out about 3-5 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, once the rash appears, recovery will take around 4-7 days after that, as the fever breaks and the rash fades.

In some cases, severe illness 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

  1. Centers for Disease Control, Measles – Signs and Symptoms. Available at (accessed 7 April 2018).
  2. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition, 4.9 Measles. Available at (accessed 7 April 2018).
  3. NSW Government, Department of Health, Measles Fact Sheet. Available at (accessed 7 April 2018)
  4. Centers for Disease Control, Measles – Photos of Measles and People with Measles. Available at (accessed 7 April 2018).
  5. Centers for Disease Control, Measles – Complications of Measles. Available at (accessed 7 April 2018).

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0133a - Date of preparation May 2018