Measles is an extremely infectious viral illness caused by the rubeola virus. Measles is ever present in the community meaning many people develop resistance to the disease. Measles is a serious illness that should not be taken lightly – its effects on communities that have never been exposed to the virus are known to be devastating. Around twenty-one different viral strains of measles have been identified by scientists and it is thought that, in the last 150 years, over 200 million worldwide have been killed by the disease.
Measles symptoms commonly include fever, runny nose, and infected eyes. Appearing up to eleven days post infection other measles symptoms may include the following -
Runny nose – medically referred to as coryza
A dry hacking cough
Swollen and inflamed eyes – conjunctivitis
Fever – this may reach and stay at around 105F. Very often, the temperature of a patient will drop and then rise again once the characteristic measles rash appears.
Generalised aches and pains
Small gray/white spots which may have a blue/white centre appearing inside the mouth, cheeks and throat (Kopliks spots)
Rash – the measles rash does not appear until at least three days after the initial
. The rash generally lasts at least a week, if not longer and usually starts behind the ear before spreading over the whole body. The rash appears to consist of red/brown spots that may join together as the illness progresses
When to see the doctor
Most rashes that appear on children are harmless – however, if you have reason to suspect your child is infected with measles it is important to seek medical advice. You should also seek your doctor if -
There is no improvement in the measles symptoms, or they worsen
The fever is higher than 100F
The fever remains after the symptoms have disappeared
Causes and transmission
Measles is an infection caused by a virus living in the mucus of the throat and nose of an infected individual – the virus is contagious for up to four days before the appearance of any rash and for up to five days after the rash has appeared. Infection is generally transmitted in a number of ways –
Physical contact with an infected person
Inhaling air infected by a patient coughing and/or sneezing
Touching a contaminated surface – the virus can remain active for as long as two hours outside the body
The virus begins to multiply as soon as it enters the body and is likely to infect the eyes, urinary tract, blood vessels, and the nervous system. It is extremely unlikely for a patient who has already had measles to become re-infected. For those individuals with no immunity developing the disease is highly likely once they have been in contact with an infected person.
Measles is a notifiable disease in most countries – this means it is essential to have the disease correctly diagnosed – if the signs and measles symptoms are present this is a straightforward matter.
Measles requires no specific treatment – rest and plenty of fluids should be sufficient to make the patient comfortable, medication may be administered in order to control any fever. The patient may need to rest in a darkened room due to increased sensitivity to light and should be isolated from vulnerable individuals.
Measles can be a dangerous illness and complications are more likely in those who already have a compromised immune system, around 20% of those infected with measles can expect to develop complications, these may include -
- Infections of the eyes
- Ear infections
- Laryngitis and/or bronchitis
- In children a febrile convulsion may occur due to the high fever
- Cardiac problems
Measles is a serious illness that may cause life-changing complications to develop – it is essential therefore that parents ensure their children are correctly vaccinated against the disease.