Measles, also known as Rubeola, is one of the most contagious childhood infectious diseases. Although more common in the pediatric population, measles can occur in adults as well. It is caused by measles virus, and this disease only exists in humans. It is spread by sharing food, drinks with an infected person, and is carried by droplets by the sneezing and coughing of an affected person. A person with measles is most likely to transmit the virus from 4 days before the rash, to 4 days after the rash has disappeared. Once infected with the measles virus, it will confer lifelong immunity. This means a person who has gotten measles once will not get it again.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The first symptoms of measles are flu like – cough, runny nose, sore throat and low grade fever. Lymph nodes in the neck may also increase in size. Red and sore eyes, and body aches are also early symptoms of measles.
Once these symptoms start to fade away, the characteristic measles rash starts to appear. It first appears inside the mouth as red spots (called koplik’s spots), and then spreads to the rest of the body, starting at the face, behind the ears, neck and the hairline, and gradually spreading down to the trunk, thighs and legs. The rash is a characteristic reddish color which is made up of large reddish blotches merging into each other.
COMPLICATIONS OF MEASLES
Complications of measles may include:
Ear infection. One of the most common complications of measles is a bacterial ear infection.
Bronchitis, laryngitis or croup. Measles may lead to inflammation of your voice box (larynx) or inflammation of the inner walls that line the main air passageways of your lungs (bronchial tubes).
Pneumonia. Pneumonia is a common complication of measles. People with compromised immune systems can develop an especially dangerous variety of pneumonia that is sometimes fatal.
Encephalitis. About 1 in 1,000 people with measles develops encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that may cause vomiting, convulsions, and, rarely, coma or even death. Encephalitis can closely follow measles, or it can occur months later.
Pregnancy problems. If you’re pregnant, you need to take special care to avoid measles because the disease can cause pregnancy loss, preterm labor or low birth weight.
Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia). Measles may lead to a decrease in platelets — the type of blood cells that are essential for blood clotting.
As measles is a viral illness, it is self limiting much like chicken pox. No treatment can prevent an already established measles infection. However, in patients with no prior established immunity such as infants, post exposure vaccine given within 72 hours of exposure may limit the severity of symptoms. If the person still develops measles, it will be a mild form.
It is advisable to use over the counter fever medication such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen for fever. The rash is self limiting and resolves in 4-5 days. If measles results in an ear infection or a chest infection such as pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic.
As with chickenpox and other flu-like illnesses, aspirin should not be given to young children as it may increase the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a condition which causes severe damage to the brain and liver.
The two tenets of prevention of measles are 1) isolation and 2) vaccination.
If a person in the household is suffering from measles, it is highly advisable for him/her to avoid any activities that might involve contact with other persons, especially from 4 days before and up until 4 days after the rash, which is when an infected person is most contagious.
Be sure that anyone who’s at risk of getting the measles who hasn’t been fully vaccinated receives the measles vaccine as soon as possible. This includes anyone born after 1957 who hasn’t been vaccinated, as well as infants older than 6 months. Since the introduction of the measles vaccine, measles has virtually been eliminated in the United States, even though not everyone has been vaccinated. This effect is called herd immunity, and is essential in providing immunity to those whose immune systems are too weak to tolerate a live vaccine such as measles. These may include persons with cancer, HIV AIDS, genetic immunological deficiency diseases, and premature babies.