What is Measles?
Measles, also known as Rubeola, is a highly infectious viral infection that normally affects children. The illness is unpleasant and can be fatal, but individuals who become infected with measles will develop antibodies and life-long immunity to the disease. It is quite rare today due to effective childhood immunisation programmes.
How is it spread?
Measles is highly contagious and on average, each infected person infects four other people who are not immune. The measles virus lives in the mucus and throat of an infected individual and is spread when the individual coughs or sneezes. The virus can live for up to 2 hours on environmental surfaces. It usually takes about 10 days for symptoms to develop after exposure to the virus although the incubation period for the virus varies between 7-21 days. Generally, persons with measles are infectious to others from 4 days before and 4 days after the onset of the rash.
The measles virus can multiply in the back of the throat and lungs and then spreads through the body. Common symptoms include:
- High temperature, sore eyes (conjunctivitis) and runny nose.
- Harsh, dry cough
- Tiredness, body ache and poor appetite
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Small white spots that develop inside the mouth and last several days
- Appearance of red blotchy skin 3-4 days after the first symptoms that usually starts on the neck and head and spreads down the body within 2-3 days. The rash is typically flat and fades under pressure.
- The rash eventually turns brown and becomes lighter over a few days.
- Feeling generally unwell for 3-5 days
Measles can be effectively prevented by immunisation with the MMR vaccine, which is available to all children in Gibraltar and is given in 2 doses:
- 1st dose at 12 to13 months of age
- 2nd dose at 3years 4months to 5 years of age
If you are planning to have a baby and are not immune to measles or have not been vaccinated against measles, the MMR Vaccine is recommended
Controlling the spread
It is important that children or adults with measles remain at home and off school or work from the onset for at least 4days.
You can prevent the spread of measles by regularly washing your hands with soap and water and disposing of tissues in the bin after sneezing or coughing. The infected person should also avoid contact with any individual who has a weakened immune system as well as young children and pregnant women.
Complications of Measles
Complications from measles are most common in children under the age of 5 years and in adults over the age of 20 years. Measles is often accompanied by many bacterial infections.
Complications that can be distressing and may require medical attention and review include:
- Eye infection with red, swollen eyes (Conjunctivitis)
- Inflammation of the voice box or larynx resulting in hoarse voice (Laryngitis)
- Ear infection
- Infection of the airways causing bronchitis or croup
- Fits due to high fever (convulsions)
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) that starts 7-10 days after the onset of the rash and causes drowsiness, headache, vomiting
- Lung infection (pneumonia) that causes difficulty in breathing and chest pains
- Squint due to the virus affecting the nerves or muscles in the eyes
Complications in pregnant women include the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, low birth-weight babies. If you are pregnant and have not been immunised but come in contact with someone who has measles, please contact your GP as soon as possible.
There is no specific treatment for measles. The main aim is to relieve the symptoms by:
- Giving paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease fever or pain
- Encouraging plenty fluids ( water is preferable as fruit juice may stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva and this can cause more pain)
- Wearing loose clothing to keep cool
Antibiotics are not effective against measles but they may be prescribed by your GP to treat an accompanying bacterial infection such as ear or chest infections.
Most individuals recover fully. However, it is important that you seek immediate medical attention if:
- There are signs of increasing drowsiness
- Little urine is passed
- Mouth and tongue remain very dry
- There are difficulties in breathing
- Convulsions (fits) occur