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World Immunisation Week 2018

Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract , then spreads throughout the body. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.

Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.


The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 89 780 people died from measles in 2016 – mostly children under the age of 5 years.

Key facts

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 84% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2016 worldwide.
  • In 2016, about 85% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 72% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2016, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 20.4 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.
  • In 2016, there were 89 780 measles deaths globally – marking the first year measles deaths have fallen below 100 000 per year.

Signs and symptoms

  • 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).
  • Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease.