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Measles: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Medikoe Health Expert

Medikoe Health Expert

  Koramangala, bengaluru, karnataka, india, Bengaluru     Jul 14, 2019

   6 min     



Measles, also known as rubeola, is a viral infection that mostly affects kids. The measles virus lives in the mucus present in our throat and nose. It is developed through the air and via coming into direct contact with somebody who had acquired it already. The virus can stay alive in the air and on surfaces for about 2 hours. Once very common, measles is now easily prevented through vaccination. 

Measles mostly affects small children and can have fatal consequences in many cases and is still responsible for the demise of thousands of children under five years of age worldwide, particularly in areas and countries where vaccination is not yet prevalent.

Who is at risk of getting measles?

The people exposed at high risk for measles involve

  • children younger than one year of age

  • those who received immunoglobulin at the time of measles vaccination

  • those who have not acquired the proper vaccination series

  • people immunised with an earlier ineffective killed measles vaccine from 1963 until 1967.

Measles symptoms

The signs and symptoms of measles start appearing about a week or two after the person is infected with the virus. Some of the most prominent symptoms for measles include:

  • A dry cough is one of the most common symptoms of measles.

  • Children also develop fever due to measles.

  • Koplik's spots: these are tiny white spots on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheeks. It is one of the most distinguishing features of measles.

  • Runny nose and sore throat are also common during measles.

  • Conjunctivitis is another common symptom of the condition.

  • Intertwined rashes on the skin made up of large blotches.

Measles causes

As already mentioned, measles is a viral infection that is highly contagious. The measles virus multiplies in the throat and the nose of the infected person. The virus can be transmitted from one person to another through sneezing, coughing, talking, etc.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets in the air can infect another person. The virus can also land on some surface or object and remain active for many hours. About ninety per cent of susceptible people who are exposed to the virus will develop the condition.

Further, people with vitamin A deficiency, or unvaccinated people, or people who travel to countries where measles is prevalent, may develop the condition.

Measles treatment

The condition is diagnosed just by looking at the symptoms, particularly Koplik's spots and if needed, a blood test can be done for confirmation. The treatment is aimed at easing the symptoms and providing relief to the affected person. There is no specific treatment for measles, but the following steps are commonly taken:

Vaccination is given to non-immunized people within three days of exposure to the virus. This may prevent the infection, and even if it occurs, the symptoms are usually milder and last only for a short period of time.

  • People with compromised immune systems, including pregnant women and infants may receive antibodies known as immune serum globulin. If immune serum globulin is given within six days of exposure to the virus, the condition can be prevented or even if the symptoms occur, they are much milder.

  • To further alleviate the symptoms, the doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medications to reduce fever that usually accompanies measles.

  • If measles leads to other complications like ear infections, the doctor may also prescribe antibiotics for treatment.

  • Vitamin A may also be given to affected children as children with lower levels of Vitamin A usually have more severe symptoms of the condition.

  • Besides, experts recommend bed rest, taking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, using humidifiers to alleviate symptoms like sore throat and runny nose, etc.

Is measles airborne?

Measles can be developed from the air from small aerosol particles and respiratory droplets. Measles infected person can release the virus into the air every time they sneeze or cough.

These respiratory particles can also settle on surfaces or objects. You can get infected if you come into contact with a contaminated object, like as a doorknob, and then touch your nose, mouth or face.

The measles virus can survive outside of the body for a longer time than you may think. As a matter of fact, it can remain infectious on surfaces in the air for up to two hours.

Is measles contagious?

Measles is a highly contagious disease, which means that the infection can spread very easily from one person to another.

A susceptive person who has been exposed to the measles virus has about 90 per cent risk of getting infected. Additionally, an infected patient can continue to spread the virus to somewhere among 9 to 18 susceptible people.

A person who has measles can spread this virus to other people before they even know that they have acquired it. Measles infected person is contagious for at least four days before the characteristic rash develops. After the rash appears, they are still contagious for another 4-5 days.

The principal risk factor for contracting measles is unvaccinated. Moreover, some groups are comparatively at a higher risk of developing complications from measles infection, including infants, young children, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system.

How does one become immune to measles?

Anybody who has had measles is immune for life. People who have received two shots of measles vaccine after their first birthday carry a 98% likelihood of remaining immune. Infants receive some immunity from their mothers as well. Unfortunately, this immunisation is not complete, and infants are still at an increased risk for infection until they get the first dose of vaccine around 12-15 months of age. Children receive their second dosage at 4-6 years of age.

Measles prevention

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways of preventing measles in both children as well as adults. The first dose of vaccine is generally given between 12 to 15 months of age. If you need to travel while the infant is below one year of age, your doctor may decide to vaccinate the child early. Besides vaccination, the condition can be prevented from spreading further by isolating affected people, avoiding public places during a measles breakout, etc. Since there is no particular treatment available for this condition, preventing measles is extremely important.

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