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With an outbreak of measles declared in all but one province in South Africa, we look at symptoms and treatments of this infection.


Measles is an airborne respiratory infection that is spread when someone talks, sneezes or coughs. Because it presents as the flu, initially starting with a bad cough, it isn’t always easy to diagnose. The biggest sign is the rash which appears on the head and eventually covers the whole body.

If you have contracted measles you are contagious from four days before the rash appears until four days after the onset of the rash.

Complications from measles can include diarrhea, dehydration, brain damage, pneumonia and even blindness, and children under the age of two are at the highest risk.

How long do symptoms last?

You can expect the worst of it to be over within seven to 10 days. Monitor your child during this time. If they begin to experience shortness of breath, become drowsy or cough up blood, consult your doctor immediately.


As measles is a viral infection, there is no treatment available. You can try some home remedies to alleviate discomfort.

Manage your child’s fever with medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. You can put a humidifier in their room if they are congested. Breathing in steaming water with a few drops of eucalyptus oil can help unblock them. Wipe itchy eyes with damp cotton wool pads. Unlike chickenpox, measles very rarely causes scarring. To soothe the affected areas, apply lanolin ointment. Or, pour one cup of oatmeal into a warm bath and have your child soak in it for a while.

Vaccination protection

Children used to be vaccinated at nine months. Now it is recommended they are vaccinated at six months. The measles vaccination is always done in two doses – once at six months and then again at 12 months if you are following the state schedule. Should you decide to go private, your child will receive the six-month vaccination and then the MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) vaccination at 12 months. This gives added protection against mumps and German measles. This vaccination is considered the most effective.

 Should my child be vaccinated again?

If your child has been vaccinated within the last three months, there is no need to be vaccinated again, however, if you reside in the affected areas and your child has not recently been vaccinated, it is a good idea to re-vaccinate. Local municipalities are encouraging parents of children up to the age of 15 who were previously vaccinated, to be vaccinated again if they live in the areas experiencing an outbreak.

 What are the symptoms to look out for?

If your child presents with a fever and flu-like symptoms, have them checked for measles. Two to three days after contracting the virus, very small white spots may appear inside the mouth, followed by a rash on the head, which then spreads across the body.

 Where can my child be vaccinated?

Private clinics and state clinics offer the measles vaccine, and some paediatricians, but not all. It’s best to call your local clinic or doctor and ask if they have the vaccine available and then book an appointment for your child.


For a breakdown of what immunisations your child should have and when, visit Immunisation Schedule 

Jessica Baxter