Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the measles virus. Initially the symptoms are like the common cold with fever, conjunctivitis (sore red eyes), cough, and characteristic Koplik spots (small white spots in the mouth).
Between days 3 to 7 of the illness a red blotchy rash appears on the face that then becomes more generalised.
Measles is also known as English measles, rubeola and morbilli.
How common is measles?
Before widespread immunisation against measles in industrialised countries, measles was a very common childhood disease that carried a high death rate.
Nowadays in countries where measles is part of an immunisation programme, the risk of exposure and incidence of actual disease cases is low.
However, because of a recent trend by some parents not to immunise their children, the number of cases of measles, and its complications, is once again increasing.
In developing countries, measles still occurs frequently and is associated with a high rate of complications and death.
It remains a common disease even in some developed countries of Europe and Asia. Measles still causes more than a million childhood deaths each year.
How do you get measles?
Measles is highly contagious and is easily spread from person to person by breathing in airborne respiratory droplets from an infected person’s coughing or sneezing.
An infected person is contagious from 2 days before any symptoms show to at least 5 days after the onset of rash.
An acute infection of measles almost always gives lifelong immunity.
Who is at risk of measles?
Groups of individuals who are at greater risk of measles infection include:
- Infants who have lost their passive immunity from their mothers (acquired from their mother through transfer of antibody across the placenta) and before their first immunisation
- Unvaccinated travellers to areas where measles is endemic (common)
- Individuals with immunodeficiency (e.g. due to infection with HIV/AIDS, leukaemia, cancer, corticosteroid therapy), regardless of their immunisation status
- Migrants and refugees
Individuals at greater risk for severe measles and its complications include:
- Malnourished individuals (particularly vitamin A deficient)
- Those with an underlying immune deficiency
- Pregnant women
How is measles transmitted?
Measles is transmitted through the respiratory system of the injured person by the sprays flying while coughing, sneezing; or through the direct contact with the nose and mouth fluids.
Incubation Period of the Disease
The incubation period of the disease ranges between 7 to 14 days of the injury. During this period, the injured person can transmit the disease even before the symptoms, such as fever and rash, appear.
Therefore, when a child at the school age is injured, they must be isolated and be prevented from going to school until they recover. This aims at preventing the spread of the disease among their peers.
After the incubation period lapsed, the disease symptoms start to appear. They range from rise in the body temperature to 39 degrees or more and for 3-4 days, along with severe runny nose, dry cough, and eye redness to the beginning of the rash appearance.
The rash is red spots spreading over the face then it extends to the neck and upper extremities of the body, down to the trunk and the rest of the body.
And it lasts up to the seventh day, then these symptoms begin to gradually disappear.
Most of the measles-injured persons fully recover and develop immunity against the virus causing the disease, Allah willing.
In addition to this, some of the persons afflicted with measles are vulnerable for having the complications aggravated such as getting injured with otitis media, tracheitis, or pneumonia.
Preventing from the measles
May Allah be praised, children, from the moment of their birth and up to eight months, possess immunity against the measles, acquired by mother.
As regards children a year of age, they start to be given anti-measles vaccine according to the basic vaccine schedules approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Then, they are given a booster dose from the vaccine at the age of 4-6 years.
Should the disease break out in some area of any countries, a preventive dose of the anti-measles vaccine would be administered to the children and adults.
The anti-measles vaccine is made up of tripartite viral vaccine against rubella and mumps. It is a double virus stimulating the immune system in the human body; in order to form anti-bodies against the virus.
Thus the body gets the necessary immunity and the vaccine is given as an intramuscular (IM) injection.
There is no anti-viral drug for the measles and treatment is conducted through providing the health care such as protecting against dehydration by giving the patient fluids, pain sedatives, temperature-lowering drugs, and treating the complications which may result from getting afflicted with measles such as pneumonia.
Also, it should be taken in account isolating the patient in order for the infection not to be transmitted to others mingling with them.