WHO updates fact sheet on Measles (26 October 2017)

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its fact sheet on measles.

Key Messages:

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.

Despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, measles remains a leading cause of death among children. Approximately 89 780 people died from measles in 2016 – mostly children under the age of 5 years -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. Serious complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 30.

The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.

Women infected while pregnant are also at risk of severe complications and the pregnancy may end in miscarriage or preterm delivery. People who recover from measles are immune for the rest of their lives.

Who is at risk?

Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death.

Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk.

Any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected.


The highly contagious virus is spread by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.


No specific antiviral treatment exists for measles virus.

All children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. This treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that occur even in well-nourished children and can help prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have been shown to reduce the number of deaths from measles by 50%.


Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with high case and death rates, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths.

The measles vaccine has been in use for over 50 years. It is safe, effective and inexpensive.

The measles vaccine is often incorporated with rubella and/or mumps vaccines. It is equally effective in the single or combined form.

Two doses of the vaccine are recommended to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks, as about 15% of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from the first dose.

20.8 million – are still missing their first measles vaccine dose. More than half of these unvaccinated children live in six countries:

  • Nigeria (3.3 million),
  • India (2.9 million),
  • Pakistan (2.0 million),
  • Indonesia (1.2 million),
  • Ethiopia (0.9 million), and
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (0.7 million).

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to Global Measles and Rubella Strategic Plan 2012-2020 (English) [PDF]:

Click to access 9789241503396_eng.pdf

Link to WHO news release on decline in Measles deaths:


Link to Measles & Rubella Initiative web site:


Link to Measles and Rubella Initiative fact sheet on Measles and Rubella:


Click to access measles-rubella-2017-fact-sheet.pdf

Link to WHO page on Measles vaccine:


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