Measles – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Measles is a contagious viral infection that is common in childhood. Measles is also known as rubeola and should not be confused with rubella (German measles) although they may present with similar symptoms. In most cases, measles is not life threatening but in babies or HIV/AIDS patients, there is a possibility of death due to the complications associated with measles.

Causes of Measles

Measles is caused by the Morbillivirus species of which there are many different strains. The virus is spread through the fluids from an infected person’s mouth (saliva) or nose (mucus) when coughing or sneezing. It is easily transmitted among children living in the same house or within a school and for this reason any person with measles should be isolated or quarantined.

Pregnant women, HIV/AIDS patients and any person with a low immune system should seek immediate medical attention and not wait to recover from the disease without treatment and monitoring. South Africa has seen many measles outbreaks in 2009 and this will undoubtedly continue through 2010. Many of these outbreaks that resulted in fatalities may have been associated with other diseases like HIV/AIDS or among children who were not vaccinated. If you have had the vaccine and you are generally healthy, there is no need to be afraid of the implications if you exposed to a person with measles.

Signs and Symptoms

Measles is primarily a respiratory tract infection which is accompanied by a skin rash. The main symptoms include :

  • Fever (may reach up to 40 degrees Celsius)
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Pink or red eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Light sensitivity
  • White mouth sores or blisters
  • Flat, blotchy skin rash

The skin symptoms usually occurs a few days after the other symptoms often leading to an incorrect diagnosis initially. Click here to see a picture of the measles rash.

Treatment of Measles

Ideally measles should be prevented by administering the measles vaccine or MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella)  early in life. Even if you did not receive the vaccine in childhood, you can take it within 72 hours of being exposed to a person with measles and it will possibly prevent the infection.

If you contract measles, there is limited treatment options for the infection itself as the body should be given time to deal with the virus and recover from the effects. Your doctor may prescribe analgesics to help you cope with the symptoms of measles. Sometimes antibiotics are also prescribed for any other bacterial infections that may arise with the measles.

Bed rest and a healthy diet is important. Plenty of fluids including water and fruit juices will help you cope with the infection and even though you may have a lack of appetite, it is important to eat and and drink during this time so that you can overcome the infection quickly. You may find bright light or sunlight uncomfortable so you should isolate yourself to a dimly lit room. You will usually recover from the measles within 10 to 14 days.

Preventing Measles

Vaccination is the only way to prevent measles. While limiting your exposure to a person known to have the measles may spare you from infection this time around, it can always affect you later when you are exposed to other people who  will not tell you about their infection. Many parents are concerned about the measles vaccine due to media reports linking the MMR vaccine to autism. These concerns are totally unfounded and even if you opt for complementary medicine like homeopathy for your child’s health care needs, you should still allow your child to have the measles vaccine.

Complications associated with measles can include respiratory diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia and  inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). The latter can be fatal if not attended to immediately. If you have already has the measles, then you have natural immunity and a vaccine may not be necessary.