• Jemma

Measles know the facts

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

what does the measles rash look like
Measles Rash

If you’re reading this blog then you are likely to fall into one of these three categories,

1) you suspect your child might have measles

2) You’re debating the immunisation (MMR) and want to know more

3) you’ve seen me moaning about how horrible my son having measles was and want to be prepared just in case.

Whichever you are, educating yourself is so important and the facts might actually surprise you. They did me! I guess I always knew measles wasn’t a very nice illness, it must be pretty bad to vaccinate against it, right? But mentally I’d put it in the same box as chicken pox and wow how wrong I was. I don’t want to come across as ranty in this post, it’s about the facts after all but this disease is preventable, and it makes me so angry that I had to watch my baby boy being so poorly all because of someone else’s decision not to vaccinate their child. I received so many supportive messages when I shared that Rory was ill and to be honest I needed them. As with any baby when they are poorly it is exhausting; you're lacking sleep, me time and by the end of two weeks in the house I was starting to lose my sanity too. It also took it's toll on my older daughter as the baby was pretty much glued to me for 14 days and she started playing up to get attention which added to stress in all honesty I found myself in tears a fair bit over those weeks.

You may have noticed that there is a lot in the news at the moment as the UK has lost its measles free status. There has been 219 reported cases already this year! As a highly infectious disease one case of measles will infect 15-20 others.

First what is measles?

Measles is highly infectious - the most infectious of all diseases transmitted through the respiratory route. Measles can be severe, particularly in immunosuppressed individuals and young infants. It is also more severe in pregnancy, and increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or preterm delivery.

While Rory was ill it was an exhausting couple of weeks to say the least and I hope that this post can prevent other parents going through it. We also got off lightly has Rory had the MMR when he was a year old, so his condition wasn’t anywhere as bad as it could have been, this worry’s me even more because it wasn’t very nice at all and I couldn’t even imagine a baby like him having it full force. Unfortunately it is an illness that is having a resurgence which is just crazy in 2019.

A recent blog from public health England sums up perfectly why measles is coming back. “Measles remains endemic in many countries around the world and there are currently several large outbreaks in countries across Europe where MMR vaccine uptake has been low. Until measles elimination is achieved globally we will continue to see importations of the measles virus to the UK and in order to limit spread within the UK, it is important to maintain high coverage of two doses of the MMR vaccine in the population. Cases of measles occur in communities where vaccine uptake is sub-optimal.”

Upon speaking with our GP and Public Health England I have found out that West London has a lower than average uptake on vaccinations which is why Rory is likely to of gotten ill.

Immunisations – The MMR

The first MMR jab is offered at 12-13 months old (it is not given early as it has been shown to not work as well before this age) however if you are traveling to a country with outbreaks you can immunise before you go but your child is likely to need to have the jab again at 1 year. After the first dose you are 93% covered, but it’s only after the second dose at 3 ½ that they have 97% protection. The second dose can also be brought forward if you are likely to come into contact with measles (Everley had hers early because of her brother having the disease) So please do remember the booster, many doctors don’t send reminders for these and it’s up to the parents to book the pre-school jabs in. (figures from CDC)

So, we know that the rise in measles cases is down to less people immunising their kids, sadly that is a fact, and parents must ensure their children have both doses to be covered to the highest degree. However an increasing number of parents are choosing to not immunise their child at all and this has a direct correlation with the increase in cases in the UK.

I guess the best place to start would be to look at why people are choosing not to give their kids the MMR injection........

A few years ago research was released that showed a link between the MMR jab and autism, this has been proven false and the doctor (Dr Wakefield) that released this struck off. I’m not going to go over all the details but you can read more about it here this put lots of parents off the MMR jab and unfortunately has still tarnished it. Despite multiple, scientifically rigorous studies that have found no link between MMR vaccine and autism, the myth of an association has persisted.

MMR stands for measles, mumps & rubella and is a live vaccine which means that you are injected with a small amount of the virus which triggers your immune system to produce antibodies against the illness. If you then come into contact with the virus at a later date your system will recognise it about immediately produce the antibodies again to fight it.

The reason many anti-vaxers choose not to have the MMR is because of the possible side effects, so lets look at these, here are some of the actual facts about the MMR:

  • In extremely rare cases, a child can have a severe allergic reaction (known medically as anaphylaxis) immediately after having the MMR vaccine. (1 in 900,000)

  • About a week to 11 days after the MMR injection, some children get a very mild form of measles.(1 in 10) this is not infectious to others

  • About 3 to 4 weeks after having the MMR injection, 1 in 50 children develop a mild form of mumps. Again this is not infectious to others.

  • Bruise-like spots (linked to the Rubella vaccine) called ITP occurs in 1 in 24,000

  • Small chance of a seizure happen 6-11 days after the vax this occurs in 1 in 1,000 (Fits are more common as a result of measles infection than they are as a result of the MMR vaccine.)

  • If you are Vegan some forms of the MMR contain gelatine

But what about the side effects of Measles........

Here is a little table I pulled together to put it in black & white.

The side effects of measles

1 in 4 children who contract measles are hospitalised, so I spent two weeks on tender hooks jumping at every murmur Rory made, scared shitless he would have a seizure, his temperature would get out of control, or his spots travelled to his eyes which would impact his sight.

What are the signs of Measles?

If you are not familiar with the first signs of measles here they are, please be aware the spots are a later symptom.

Signs to watch for:

Flu like symptoms

Conjuntivius/ swollen eyes

White spots onside cheeks




  • The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days.

  • A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.

  • After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck. Over about 3 days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days, and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of 7 to 18 days).

If you suspect measles do not just take your child to the doctors or A&E, Call ahead first as they may put you in a isolation room when you arrive to ensure there is not contact with other patients’ that could then contract the virus. We called 111 with Rory and spoke to a doctor who arranged an out of hours GP appointment for us, this is also a good option if you’re not sure.

Once a doctor has confirmed the illness the incubation period – 7-21 days, however the period of infectious 4 days after rash appears.

If you have been in contact with someone with measles but you do not catch it, you do not carry the virus in the system at all. I was worried that I would still be able to infect people especially as I work with pregnant women and this illness can cause miscarriage or premature birth, so I double checked this. Unlike some other illnesses measles will not live in your system and be passed on to vulnerable people.

What to do if you child has measles – lots of cuddles and calpol I’m afraid, keep them cool to lower their body temperature. It is not unusual for their appetite to reduce significantly (Rory basically lived on Milk and snacks) and for them to want to sleep a lot more (just like when you’re ill).

We were also contacted by Public Health England who sent a swab kit to confirm if it was a case of measles.

Measles rash on baby
Measles Rash on Rory

In summary

The basics are that if you do not immunise your child, you are making that choice for everyone in your community. Because to stamp out horrible illnesses like measles we need to work together, you decision does make an impact. It’s referred to as herd immunity, as without us all doing it the disease can still pass between people, the percentage of population that are immune is going down because healthy children are not being immunised. This is particularly important as not everyone can get vaccinated, but those who can are able to help protect those who can’t. 95% of the population need to be protected to achieve herd immunity. I was messaged by a lady I know who's son is currently having treatment for leukemia and in stark terms she put it bluntly, this illness could kill her son if he contracted it..... those able to be vaccinated to need to act to protect those that are the most vulnerable.

Further reading:

BBC article – How a preventable disease returned from the past

Vaccine Knowledge project

Government Green book - Measles