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Travelling abroad? Are you protected against measles?

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Mary Gawthrop

Specialist Nurse (Travel Health), National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC)

Measles is a highly infectious, vaccine preventable virus which is found worldwide and can have severe and potentially fatal complications. International travel can increase your risk of exposure to measles.

The measles virus spreads in respiratory droplets via coughs and sneezes from infected people or by touching contaminated surfaces. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, sore eyes and a cough. Typically, a rash appears a few days after the first symptoms, starting at the head and gradually spreading over the body.

Complications include ear infection, diarrhoea, convulsions and rarely encephalitis (brain inflammation). Risk of death is higher in children under a year and adults. Complications are more likely in people who have existing health issues, particularly those affecting a person’s immune system1. Measles is also more severe in pregnancy, and can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or early delivery2.

Risk for travellers

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases3 and is still common in some regions. It can spread easily between people during international travel4. Many countries have reported outbreaks recently; in the UK there are a number of cases which have been linked to travel abroad, including to Europe5.


Immunisation with measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect yourself against measles. In most countries, two doses are given as part of routine childhood immunisation schedule. MMR can be offered as early as six months and is also suitable for adults who missed vaccination. Before travel, check you are protected – if you are unsure, have an MMR at your GP surgery or travel clinic before you go.

NaTHNaC’s Measles advice: travelhealthpro.org.uk/disease/measles

1 Public Health England. Chapter 21: Measles. Last updated 31 December 2019. In Immunisation against infectious disease. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/measles-the-green-book-chapter-21 | 2 Public Health England. Measles: guidance for health protection staff on international travel and travel by air. October 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/measles-public-health-response-to-infectious-cases-travelling-by-air | 3 World Health Organization. WHO advice for travellers in relation to measles. June 2019. https://www.who.int/ith/WHO-advice-for-international-travel-in-relation-to-measles.pdf?ua=1 | 4 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles: Plan for Travel. 18 June 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/measles/plan-for-travel.html#:~:text=Since%20measles%20is%20still%20common,travel%20if%20you%20are%20sick | 5 Public Health England. Measles: why it is necessary to eradicate the disease in Europe. 19 July 2018. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/measles-why-it-is-necessary-to-eliminate-the-disease-in-europe

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