Measles – It isn’t just a little rash. | 3 min read

Approximately one out of three reported measles cases have one or more complications, especially among children under five and adults over twenty. Measles can be more severe in people with weakened immune systems. An estimated one out of four people with measles will need hospitalisation, and every year several people die as a consequence of measles infection. 

What is measles?

Measles is caused by a virus that spreads quickly among unvaccinated people. Healthy children and other people without the vaccine can get measles.

A person with measles can spread the virus to others for approximately eight days, starting four days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been present for four days.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

The first symptoms typically appear 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. 

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Hacking, dry cough
  • Red eyes and sometimes sensitivity to light
  • Fairly high fever (above 40°C)
  • Skin rash

Unfortunately, because of those early symptoms, people might initially think they have a common cold or another upper respiratory virus. The danger is that the infected person is contagious with measles all that time and could unknowingly spread their infection to others. 

As the illness progresses, a fairly high fever may develop, and a red rash appears that lasts four to seven days. The rash typically starts on the face and spreads to the trunk (back and chest/stomach) and outward to the arms and legs. Patients can also have a rash in their mouth, called Koplik spots, which are whitish and usually line the insides of their cheeks. The fever and rash slowly go away after a few days.

How is measles treated?

A virus causes measles; there is thus no specific medical treatment for it. To help manage symptoms, a sick patient should drink plenty of liquids, get lots of rest, lower a fever, and stay home from school, daycare or work to prevent spreading the infection. 

Patients with measles should be kept from others for four days after their rash appears. The virus can survive in the air for about two hours, so people should minimise contact with the infected person and stay out of their resting room. 

Can measles be prevented?

Yes, measles vaccination protects you and your family. By vaccinating against measles, you contribute to a healthy community. There is no scientific evidence that natural remedies, diets or lifestyle changes reduce the risk of measles. 

The two-dose measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) vaccine is about 97 percent effective at preventing infection. For most kids, measles protection is part of the MMR vaccine given when they’re 12 to 15 months old and again when they’re 4 to 6 years old. But, if your child wasn’t vaccinated, they could be vaccinated at any age, provided the two doses are one month apart. 

Does the MMR vaccine cause autism?

The 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield, which claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, has affected vaccine uptake. This study has been completely discredited, and Wakefield can no longer practice medicine.

There have been many studies since Wakefield’s work was discredited. They have all found no link between autism and MMR. A recent study that followed a large number of children has again found that there is no link between MMR and autism.

Sources and references consulted:

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