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Measles Risk for International Travellers

11 Jul 2019

Measles is one of the most highly infectious diseases. It is an important cause of illness and death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Travellers’ risk of measles is found throughout the world and is still common in many countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. In recent years there have been several outbreaks in other countries including:

  • Japan
  • Taiwan
  • Philippines
  • New Zealand
  • Thailand
  • Syria
  • USA
  • European countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and the United Kingdom
  • neighbouring countries in the European region have also been affected: Albania, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine

Measles is spread by sneezing, coughing, close personal contact or direct contact with respiratory secretions.

During the summer months, the likelihood of coming into contact with measles is possibly higher due to people coming together in popular holiday destinations. Children and those who will be living or working closely with the local population in countries where measles is common or with a recent outbreak are at highest risk.

The Disease

Measles can be spread from an infected person from 4 days before the onset of the rash to 4 days after the rash is seen. Symptoms usually develop about 10 days after and include:

  • fever
  • cough, runny nose, and sore red eyes
  • general tiredness and feeling unwell
  • a spotty, non-itchy rash that starts on the head and neck and spreads to the rest of the body

Measles infection can be severe and can be fatal. Serious complications can include:

  • severe diarrhoea and dehydration
  • respiratory infections such as pneumonia
  • fits
  • swelling of the brain
  • blindness

Advice for Travellers

Travellers to countries where measles is common or where outbreaks are occurring are at risk of catching the disease if not fully protected.

Before Travel:

  • seek advice from a healthcare provider
  • check if you are immune to measles; to be immune you need to have had measles infection in the past or had two doses of measles containing vaccine
  • if not immune, two doses of measles containing vaccine is needed for protection
  • be aware of the risk of exposure to measles as well as how it is spread and symptoms of the disease

During travel:

  • in order to minimise the risk of passing infections in an aircraft, passengers who are actively unwell, especially if they have a fever, should delay travel until they have recovered
  • an airline has the right to refuse any passenger who is unwell and who may be infectious
  • infection can spread between passengers who are seated in the same area of an aircraft, usually as a result of a cough or sneeze or by touch. This is no different from being close to someone in any other form of transport such as a bus or train
  • if a traveller travels by plane whilst infectious with measles, other passengers on that plane need to be contacted and informed by public health authorities

On return:

  • returned travellers who suspect they might have measles should:
  • seek medical attention but call ahead to the medical practice so that measures can be taken to limit exposure to other people.
  • avoid public places (such as work, school, healthcare services, shopping centres) and avoid using public transport.

Further information

• measles

• Infectious diseases while travelling