Many people tend to think that measles only affect infants, but the truth is it can infect anyone of any age, whether old or young. It is also a disease that can be spread quickly and easily as through sneezing and coughing. The symptoms of measles can be more severe than normal bouts of influenza, while it can also cause various dangerous complications that could result in a permanent disability or death.
The most vulnerable group is young children who are yet to be vaccinated against the disease and, if such children become infected with measles, they are also most at risk of dangerous complications that could lead to death. The second most vulnerable group is pregnant women who have not been vaccinated, because a measles infection could lead to a miscarriage or premature birth. Also considered at risk from a measles infection are those with weakened immune systems and mineral deficiencies, as the symptoms of measles will be more severe and dangerous in this group than for those in good health.
Measles occurs when a person is infected with the measles virus, which only affects humans. It is spread when infected particles present in the respiratory system fills the air through sneezing, coughing or even breathing, and enters the body of another person. It also spreads through direct contact with an infected person’s phlegm or mucus. This makes the measles virus extremely contagious, meaning that just 1 infected person has the potential to infect up to 15 others.
The symptoms of measles usually begin with a high fever followed by a range of other symptoms, such as a runny nose, coughing, eye redness and white/grey spots on the inside of the cheeks that occur in the first 2-3 days of the disease taking hold before going away again. Aside from these symptoms, sufferers will also come out in red hives specific to this virus around 3-4 days after the fever has begun. These hives occur throughout the body, from the hairline, to the face, body, arms and down to the legs. However, once these hives reach the feet, the patient’s fever will go away.
Doctors will first check for the presence of the aforementioned symptoms before carrying out a blood test to identify measles immunity, which can tell doctors whether the virus is currently present, or whether the virus was contracted in the past and the body now has an immunity to measles. However, it is impossible to tell whether any immunity is a result of a previous infection or due to a prior measles vaccination.
Measles could potentially cause other complications, such as encephalitis, pneumonia, inflammation of the eardrum, or extreme diarrhea, some of which are potentially fatal.
There is still no specific treatment available for measles, but doctors recommend that patients take vitamin A supplements to reduce the complications associated with the disease, alongside undertaking symptom-specific treatment. For instance, where patients experience a fever, they should be dabbed with a cool, damp cloth, taking medicine to treat fever while eating a nutritious diet, drinking clean drinking water, and getting plenty of rest are also highly advisable.
Measles patients should avoid public spaces, and children with the disease should be kept off school for at least 4 days after the hives present themselves to prevent against spreading the infection to others.
Prevention is possible with a measles vaccination which, for most children, comes in the form of a 2-time course of injections incorporating vaccinations against measles, mumps and rubella. The first of these injections are administered at between 9-12 months of age, with the second injection following at 2-2½ years of age. For adults with no immunity to measles, the 2-time vaccination can be carried out with a gap of at least 28 days between each injection. However, the measles vaccination does have the potential to cause some side effects, for instance, a fever or hives similar to those associated with measles, but these will go away by themselve
M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Mahidol University, 2000.