Childhood Diseases

Updated 03 April 2018

What is measles?

Measles is the most serious of the common childhood viral illnesses and is characterised by a red rash, high fever, cough and runny nose.


Measles is a highly infectious virus infection of the respiratory system.The main features of measles are a rash covering the entire body, a high fever, cough, red eyes and a runny nose.

The measles virus is a highly contagious virus that is spread in droplets from the nose and throat of people with measles. The main features of measles are a running nose, cough, conjunctivitis and high fever, leading up to the appearance of a skin rash that can cover the entire body. Complications can be severe.

These include middle ear infection, croup, pneumonia, diarrhoea and encephalitis.


The prevalence of measles in South Africa has decreased in the last decade through concerted efforts to vaccinate all children. Excellent vaccination rates have been achieved in some provinces, notably the Western Cape and Gauteng. However, others still lag behind especially the Eastern Cape and the rural areas.

In developing countries without measles vaccination programmes, measles is common in children under two years. With this high and continual prevalence of the virus, children are likely to contract it early in life. However, with increased vaccination coverage, this pattern of exposure to the measles virus can be substantially reduced.

In developed countries, measles tends to be seen in adolescents or young adults as a consequence of waning immunity following incomplete vaccination. Measles had originally been virtually eliminated from the United States by a very strict vaccination programme, but has recently recurred due to large numbers of parents refusing to vaccinate their children against measles. Measles control and virtual elimination can be achieved with sufficient commitment and expenditure in any country.

Read more:

Symptoms of measles

Causes of measles

Diagnosing measles

Reviewed by Prof Eugene Weinberg, Paediatrician and Health24 expert, February 2015 and previously in February 2011. 

Previously reviewed by Dr Eftyhia Vardas BSc(Hons), MBBCh, DTM&H, DPH, FC Path (Virol), MMed (Virol)


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