What is measles?
Measles, also known as Rubeola or Morbilli is an infection caused by the Rubeola virus. It is a highly contagious viral infection affecting the respiratory system. A person can get infected if he comes into contact with infected saliva or mucus.
When a person suffering from measles, coughs or sneezes, he releases the germs into the air. The germs lie active for many hours on various surfaces and infect people who come into contact.
This disease usually affects children the most, though it can also affect adults. It can be prevented, however, through vaccination.
If you observe any measles-related symptoms, or if you feel you have been exposed to someone who has measles, you need to contact your family physician or a general physician immediately. In the case of an exposure to an infected person, the doctor may advise you to take an MMR vaccine, also called immune globulin, which will reduce the risk of your developing measles. The doctor may then monitor you for a few days for any signs and symptoms of measles.
If you develop measles you will be advised by the doctor not to mingle with people for fear of the infection spreading.
It is also advisable to let your doctor know in advance that you are coming for consultation for suspected measles so that the doctor can take adequate precautions against the spread of infection.
How does measles occur?
You can get infected with measles if :
- you come into physical contact with an infected person
- you touch any surface which contains the germs and then touch your mouth, nose or eye
- you are around any infected person who coughs or sneezes
As soon as the virus enters your body it starts multiplying in your throat, lungs, the lymphatic system, urinary tract, eyes, blood vessels and the central nervous system. According to experts, the measles virus takes 1- 3 weeks to establish itself in the human body. For the symptoms of measles to appear, it will take approximately 10-12 days after the exposure.
The very first symptom that you will experience is fever. Two to three days after the fever, a reddish brown spotty rash will gradually appear behind your ears and spread across your head, forehead, and the rest of the body. The spots may gradually join together to form large dark blotchy patches. The rash is a classic measles symptom.
This spotty rash can last for over a week.
Small greyish-white spots with bluish-white centers may appear inside your mouth, inside your cheeks, and throat. These spots are known as Koplik’s spots.
During this period, if any person who has not been vaccinated, comes in contact with you, especially your bodily fluids, the person will be immediately infected.
Measles can be prevented through vaccination. However, the measles vaccine is not recommended for the following people
- pregnant women
- people with impaired immune systems.
- people suffering from fatal illnesses, such as leukemia.
- people who are allergic to ingredients in the vaccine such as neomycin
- people who have recently received immunoglobulin (IG), blood, or plasma
- people suffering from active and untreated tuberculosis
After suffering from measles once, a person develops immunity to it. There are, however, rare cases of measles occurring a second time in some people.
Who is prone to measles?
- The first vaccine for measles is given to babies who are 12 months old. Thus, children who are younger than 12 months old are at a high risk of contracting measles. The vaccine is given at 12 months of age because most of the mothers would have already suffered from the disease earlier and during pregnancy pass on certain passive antibodies to their babies, which protect the baby during the first year and renders the vaccine inoperative.
- People suffering from chronic illnesses and auto-immune diseases are at the high risk of getting infected with measles. For these people, measles can become potentially life-threatening.
- Children who have not been vaccinated and are over 5 years old are highly susceptible to measles but are less likely to develop any serious complications.
- People with a deficiency of vitamin A are at a high risk of developing measles.
- Adults over 20 years who have not been inoculated may contract the disease and are likely to develop serious complications
What are the symptoms of measles? How is measles diagnosed?
You can be sure you have contracted measles if you observe these symptoms:
- high fever (105F) which rises and drops intermittently, and continues for a number of days.
- constantly watering and inflamed eyes
- a dry cough
- running nose
- sneezing intermittently
- a reddish-brown spotty rash which appears three to four days after the initial symptoms and spreads across the body. The rash can last over a week.
- small greyish-white spots with bluish-white centres may appear inside the mouth, cheeks, and throat. These spots are known as Koplik’s spots.
- body ache
Usually, a general physician easily diagnoses measles by gauging the symptoms.
He may advise you to undertake a blood test to confirm that the Rubeola virus is in your bloodstream.
What are the complications of measles?
Babies suffering from measles who are not yet 12 months old are at a high risk of experiencing measles-related complications such as:
- otitis ( inner ear infection or inflammation)
In general measles-related complications include:
- laryngitis ( or inflammation of the voice box)
- bronchitis ( or inflammation of the inner walls of the air passages)
- respiratory problems
- otitis ( inner ear infection or inflammation)
- febrile convulsions ( or fits caused by fever)
Some rare complications that may occur in people with low immunity are:
- reduced blood platelet count
- neuritis ( infected optic nerve leading to blindness)
- heart-related complications
- nervous system complications
- brain disease
What is the treatment for measles?
People who have not been vaccinated for measles but who have been exposed to the virus can be given the measles vaccination within 72 hours of exposure which will provide protection against the disease.
In case of a full-fledged measles infection the doctor may prescribe fever reducers. Antibiotics cannot kill the measles virus but can be prescribed by the doctor, along with vitamins, to prevent or reduce secondary complications. The doctor may also prescribe Vitamin A, as Vitamin A deficiency puts a person at the risk of contracting measles.
It will take as long as three weeks to recover from a bout of measles.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
One third of measles related deaths worldwide occur in India
More than one third of all measles deaths worldwide (around 56 000 in 2011) are among children in India.
Children below six years most susceptible
Children between the age of one to six years old are most susceptible to measles
Hearing loss can result from measles
In one out of every 10 children suffering from measles ear infections can occur which can result in hearing loss.
Vaccination aiding the prevention of measles
There was a 79 % drop in measles related deaths between 2000 and 2015 worldwide due to large scale measles vaccination.
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