About measles, mumps and rubella

Information for the public is available about:

  • the MMR vaccine
  • measles
  • mumps
  • rubella

Learn more on NHS inform (external website).

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by the measles virus that may lead to severe complications.  

Prior to the introduction of immunisation, it was a common childhood disease and deaths attributable to measles were substantial.  

It is now rare in the UK as a result of effective vaccination campaigns.  

Measles is spread through airborne and respiratory droplets, with people often developing symptoms between 7 to 18 days after exposure.   

Unvaccinated groups and pregnant women are most at risk of severe disease and complications. 

Symptoms of measles include: 

  • a prodromal stage with cold-like symptoms, sneezing and a cough 
  • conjunctivitis 
  • fever 
  • small greyish-white spots on the insides of the cheeks (koplik spots) 
  • a blotchy red-brown rash appearing after a few days, starting at the head and neck and spreading to the trunk 

Complications of measles include: 

  • otitis media 
  • pneumonia 
  • encephalitis 
  • subacute sclerosing panencephalitis 

More information on measles can be found on NHS Inform (external website). 

Mumps is a highly infectious disease caused by the mumps virus. It was a common childhood illness before the introduction of the MMR vaccine.  

Mumps is spread through contact with infected airborne respiratory droplets, with people taking on average 17 days to develop symptoms after exposure.  

The most common symptom of mumps is swelling of one or both parotid glands. This swelling, known as parotitis, may cause pain and difficulty swallowing.  

More general symptoms are also associated with mumps, including: 

  • headache 
  • nausea 
  • loss of appetite 
  • fever 
  • mild abdominal pain 

Mumps infection can also lead to serious complications including: 

  • aseptic meningitis 
  • encephalitis 
  • inflammation of the testes 
  • inflammation of the ovaries 
  • pancreatitis 
  • permanent deafness 

The most effective strategy for preventing the transmission of mumps is through vaccination with the MMR vaccine. 

More information on mumps can be found on NHS Inform (external website). 

Rubella (German measles) is an infectious disease caused by the rubella virus. It is generally a mild, self-limiting illness.  

However, if it is acquired in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy it may lead to serious birth defects.  

It is now rare in the UK as a result of effective vaccination campaigns. 

Rubella is spread via contact with infected respiratory droplets. Individuals are often infectious one week before symptoms develop. 

Symptoms of rubella include: 

  • a red rash first appearing on the face then spreading to the rest of the body, typically lasting three days 
  • low-grade fever 
  • headache 
  • swollen glands in the head and neck 
  • cough 
  • sore throat 
  • painful joints – more common in adults 

Symptoms usually only last for a few days.  

Serious complications of rubella are rare.  

If rubella is caught in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy there is risk of: 

  • miscarriage 
  • the foetus being affected by a range of birth defects known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) 

Symptoms of CRS can cause the following birth defects: 

  • eye defects such as cataracts 
  • congenital heart disease 
  • deafness 
  • damage to the brain, liver, lungs or bone marrow 

More information on rubella and congenital rubella syndrome can found on NHS inform (external website). 

Last updated: 06 October 2022