Measles: symptoms, outbreak, treatment, vaccine, what is it really?
Measles: symptoms, outbreak, treatment, vaccine, what is it really?

Measles: symptoms, outbreak, treatment, vaccine, what is it really?

Measles is a viral infection which can affect children as well as adults. Although the impact has strongly lessened thanks to the vaccination, it’s been on the increase over recent years. But what are the symptoms of measles and how is it treated? Here is the explanation.

Definition: what is measles?

Measles is a viral infection affecting the respiratory tract. It is an extremely contagious illness which affects primarily, but not only children, as it can affect people of all ages. Despite what some people think, measles is a severe illness which can lead to serious complications and even death.

Throughout the world, measles is still a problem today, and one of the most important causes of death in young children. According to the statistics, it affects more than 20 million people each year and killed 164,000 people in 2008, with the majority of these deaths among children below the age of 5.

Causes and outbreak: how measles is caused

Measles is a contagious disease caused by the paramyxoviridae family virus. It is most commonly transmitted through the air when the affected person coughs, sneezes or spits, but is also possible through exposure to contaminated objects. The illness is extremely contagious during the incubation period, which lasts 10 days, and during the first few days of the disease (since symptoms begin to appear), approximately the first 4 days.

Non-vaccinated young children are the most exposed to the risk of measles but all people who aren’t vaccinated are susceptible to being infected. Measles most often present a risk in pregnant women who haven’t been vaccinated.

Symptoms: how to recognise measles

The first symptoms of measles generally appear 10 days after infection. These normally include:

- fever

- a runny nose

- red and teary eyes, characteristic of conjunctivitis

- if it is conjunctivitis, there will also be light sensitivity

- a dry cough

- a sore throat

- fatigue and general discomfort.

After the appearance of these symptoms, white spots, which are characteristic of the measles, will appear on the inside of the cheeks, called spots of Koplik. A few days later, skin rashes will appear. It starts behind the ears, travels to the face and then spreads to the torso and extremities. It takes the form of small, slightly raised, red spots.

In general, the outbreak disappears after 5 or 6 days. Other signs disappear after a few more days except the cough, which normally lasts until the end of the disease. Recovery occurs around 10 days after the appearance of the first symptoms.

Treatment: how to treat the measles

No particular treatment exists to treat the simple measles. The disease is viral, which makes antibiotics useless. Nevertheless, a paracetamol or ibuprofen-based treatment can be prescribed to relieve symptoms, especially the fever. Aspirin should be avoided with children who have measles as it can lead to a rare and serious disease, called Reye’s Syndrome.

Concerning conjunctivitis, it is advised to avoid strong lights and to rinse out the eyes with a saline solution. It is also recommended to take precautions with hygiene in order to avoid contamination. Any case of measles requires medical care and must be reported to the health authorities. At the slightest symptom, it is therefore necessary to quickly consult a doctor.

Prevention and vaccination against the measles

The best way to protect yourself from the measles is to be vaccinated. Well tolerated and free, the MMR vaccine (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) has almost become a normal part of infancy. It is done in two injections, generally the first at 12 months and the second between 16 and 18 months. If you haven’t been vaccinated as a child, it is recommended to tell your doctor if you have had one of the three diseases named above. 

By Stacey Williams
Last edited

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