Measles is a very contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus. It is so contagious that up to 90% non-vaccinated persons will get infected after being in contact with the virus. The symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after virus exposure and the disease can last between 7–14 days.
Symptoms of measles
- High fever (often over 40 degrees Celcius) for around 4 days
- Cough and runny nose
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- White spots inside the mouth by the cheeks by the molar teeth (known as Koplik’s spots)
- Red flat rashes which starts on the face and behind the ears 3-5 days after the onset of fever before spreading to the rest of the body (trunk, arms, legs and feet).
- Ear infection and deafness
- Pneumonia and bronchitis
- Brain inflammation (in around 0.1%) which can lead to fits or permanent brain damage
- Even death (in around 0.2%)
There is NO medication available once the person is infected. Treatment is supportive care to prevent complications and make the person feel more comfortable.
- Maintain good fluid hydration. This also helps the sore throat
- Adequate pain relief (such as Paracetamol. Avoid Aspirin)
- Tepid sponging may help make the child feel more comfortable
- A humidifier to moisten the air may help a child breathe easier
- Treat any opportunistic infection during this period
- Watch out for serious complications such as pneumonia, ear infection and epilepsy. The warning symptoms are shortness of breath, drowsiness, fits or confusion
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The measles vaccine is effective at preventing the disease and is often delivered in combination with other vaccines (such as MMR in Malaysia – read article on “Vaccination for Children”) in 2 doses three months apart (at the ages of 9 and 12 months of age in Malaysia). The Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP) recommends that all adult international travellers who do not have positive evidence of previous measles immunity to get 2 doses of MMR vaccine before traveling to high risk areas.
Prevention of spread
The virus spreads from saliva from coughing or sneezing by infected individuals and can stay alive for up to 2 hours in the airspace. An infected person can spread the virus from 4 days before through to 4 days after the rash appears namely a total of 8 days. As such, take the following precautions when looking after your infected child:
- Avoid sharing drinks or food and utensils
- Wear masks to limit virus spread from sneezing or coughing
- Wash your hands after tending to your child
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces like door handles, table tops and toys