Measles is a common viral infection of children. The rubeola virus that causes measles, usually affect children below 5 years of age. Infected child present with a skin rash over most of the body along with a sore throat, running nose or fever. Measles is highly contagious as even the sneeze of an infected child could easily spread the disease.
Measles is the leading cause of childhood deaths. Almost 3 million measles cases are reported every year, out of which around 900,000 succumb to it. Measles was once considered as an incurable ailment but vaccination offers protection against the disease. However, the increasing trend of refusing vaccination due to fear of its effects may contribute to outbreaks that can be fatal.
Measles is caused by highly contagious rubeola virus that commonly infects the respiratory system, especially the throat and nose. It is often spread through droplets containing the virus. An infected child could pass on the virus to healthy individual while coughing, sneezing or talking. An unvaccinated child could also get infected if he rubs his eyes or puts hand in the mouth or nose, after touching an infected child. The infective stage of measles spans across 8 consecutive days – 4 days before and 4 days after its appearance. Measles (rubeola) should not be confused with German measles (rubella).
- Children are susceptible to measles only above 9 months of age as they are protected by antibodies received from their mothers.
- Children, who are not vaccinated, are more likely to contract infection.
- Deficiency of vitamin A presents measles with more severe symptoms.
- Close contact with a person infected with measles increases the likelihood of infection.
Symptoms of measles typically appear within 7 to 14 days of infection. Initial signs are quite non-specific and includes :
- Mild fever
- Persistent dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Red inflamed eye (conjunctivitis)
Full-blown measles presents with :
- Tiny red spots in clusters that gives appearance of large skin rashes usually on the face, behind the ears or along the hairline that gradually spreads across the entire body.
- Red spots with white center, called Koplik’s spots appear on the cheek walls and chest.
If left unattended, measles may lead to complications including:
- Ear infection
- Low platelet count
- Pregnancy-related problems
Once contracted, measles cannot be cured. Vaccination can be considered within 72 hours of exposure to infection, to at most reduce the severity of the infection.
- Immunoglobulin injection is given to pregnant women or individuals with compromised immunity to prevent measles.
- Medications can be administered for treating associated symptoms like fever and pain.
- Antibiotics are prescribed in complicated cases, where measles causes pneumonia or other infections.
- Intake of vitamin A also reduces the severity of measles.
Vaccination and keeping the infected person in isolation help prevent spread of measles. Only adults and people with a strong immune system should tend to the child. The infected individual does not contract infection for the second time as there are antibodies to resist the infection. This natural immunity may however, be complicated with a weakened immune systems as is seen with HIV/AIDS.