Estimates of the force of infection (the rate at which susceptible individuals acquire infection) are essential for modelling the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases and can be a useful tool in evaluating mass vaccination strategies. Few estimates exist of the force of infection of measles virus in sub-Saharan Africa. A mathematical model was applied to age-specific recorded hospital admissions between September 1996 and September 1999 to estimate the force of measles virus infection in Lusaka, Zambia. The average force of infection was estimated to be 20% per year (95% confidence intervals (CI) 16.5, 23.5) which was insensitive to varying assumptions about vaccine coverage. The force of infection varied from year to year (P < 0.001) reflecting the cyclic pattern of measles incidence. The estimated probability of a case being hospitalised decreased with age, consistent with less severe disease in older children. Estimates of the force of infection using routinely available data were consistent with those based upon serological surveys in other sub-Saharan African countries.