Although the UK was recently issued a WHO measles elimination status, a high alert has been announced since the recent outbreak in two major cities, Leeds and Liverpool.
While we hope it doesn’t spread as far as the South West, it is important to understand more about the disease. In this piece, we’ll be discussing top tips on how to spot measles early and act quickly to prevent more people from contracting it.
So far, all the affected patients are children and young adults who haven’t received the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine. If you or your kin missed it, it is advisable to visit your GP immediately and get the jab.
Measles can cause ear infection, severe chest infections, brain swelling and irreparable damage in some cases. Toddlers are more susceptible to the disease, but anyone with a weak immune system has a higher chance of catching the sickness.
For example, cancer patients have a high-risk being infected. People who have been in contact with infected persons have also been advised to see a doctor.
Last year, outbreaks reportedly occurred in the South West of England and London. This month, Meath and Dublin in Ireland have recorded incidences of measles. The NHS also announced similar outbreaks in Germany, Italy and Romania.
Quick facts about Measles
- Measles is a highly infectious condition
- Researchers have discovered over 20 strains of the measles virus
- Symptoms include sneezing, watery eyes and a dry, raspy cough
- The disease takes 1 to 3 weeks for the virus to take effect
- Measles has no specific treatment; prevention is the best strategy
- Expectant mothers shouldn’t take the vaccine
Symptoms of Measles
The measles infection is caused by a virus known as rubeola.
The symptoms always start with a fever and at least one these 3Cs:
- Coryza, or runny nose
- Dry, raspy cough
- Runny nose
- Conjunctivitis, or redness and swelling of the eyes
- Watery eyes
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Reddish brown rash
- Small grey-white spots with bluish-white centres inside the mouth, cheeks and throat (also known as Koplik’s spots)
- General body pains
The reddish-brown spots appear 3 – 4 days after the original symptoms. This may last up to 7 days. The rash usually begins behind the ears and spreads to other parts of the body, including the legs. The spots often join as they grow. While most childhood rashes are not measles, it is essential to see a doctor when the get worse or become accompanied by a fever.
Causes of Measles
Measles is caused by an infection of the rubeola virus. The virus inhabits the nasal mucosa and throat of the infected individual. In the first 4 days before the rash appears, it is highly contagious. The period of contagion lasts 4 – 5 days.
The infection spreads through;
- Direct contact with the contagious person
- Inhaling sneeze droplets of infected persons
- Touching a surface with infected mucus droplets and putting the fingers in the mouth, touching the eyes or rubbing the nose
The virus is active on an object for 2 hours.
Development of Measles Infection
When the virus enters the body, it gets to the back of the throat, lungs and lymphatic system where it multiplies. It subsequently infects and replicates in the eyes, blood vessels, urinary tract and central nervous system.
It establishes itself between 1 – 3 weeks but symptoms start to show from 9 to 11 days after the first infection. Anyone who has never been vaccinated or infected before is at risk of becoming sick if they inhale the infected droplets come in direct contact with an infected person.
Up to 90% of people who are not immune to the virus will become infected if the share a house with an infected person.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is easy for a doctor to diagnose measles by simply looking at the signs and symptoms. A blood test is the defining method for the presence of rubeola.
In many countries, measles is a notifiable disease. This means, when it is spotted, the physician is expected to inform the authorities immediately. If the patient is a child, the physician will also inform the school.
A child infected with measles should not go back to school until at least five days after the appearance of the rash.
There is no specific cure for measles. If there are no complications because of the infection, the physician will advise the patient to rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
The symptoms usually disappear after 7 – 10 days.
Doing the following often helps alleviate the discomfort:
- For high fevers, the temperature of the child should be kept cool, but not cold, Ibuprofen or Tylenol are effective in controlling the fever, aches and pains. Children below the age of 16 shouldn’t take aspirin. A doctor should recommend the dosage for acetaminophen as too much can be harmful to a child’s liver.
- Avoid exposing an infected child to smoky conditions, especially cigarettes.
- Wear sunglasses, draw the curtains and keep the room darkened because people infected by measles are usually sensitive to light.
- Use a warm, damp cloth to clean out any crustiness around the eyes.
- While cough medicines do not alleviate a measles cough, a humidifier or putting a bowl of water in the room can help. For children over I year old, a glass of warm water with two teaspoons of honey and a teaspoon of lemon juice may help. Please don’t give honey to infants.
- Give the child plenty of fluids as a fever often causes dehydration.
- Any child in the infection phase (between 4 -5 days after rash breaks out) shouldn’t go to school to avoid infecting others who are not vaccinated, or have never had measles.
- People who are vitamin A deficient and infected children below two years may benefit from vitamin A supplements. It can prevent complications but must only be given with a doctor’s recommendation.
See a doctor if you suspect your child of having a measles infection. The disease often clears after 7 – 10 days after the contagion period. People who have been infected before, develop an immunity to the disease, but the best form of prevention is immunization.