Measles – Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Measles is a viral illness that is highly contagious, and which can sometimes result in serious complications. Vaccinations have helped make measles pretty uncommon in the UK, nowadays.

If you haven’t been vaccinated, or haven’t had measles before, you may be at risk. Anyone can get them, but measles is usually more prevalent in children.

It usually takes about 7-10 days for measles to clear up.

How Is Measles Spread?

Something as simple as a sneeze or a cough can spread measles from an infected person to one who is not. When the person who is not infected breathes in the virus, they then end up with measles.

Symptoms of Measles

It usually takes about 10 days from the moment of infection for symptoms to show, and they include:

  • Cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, cough, and a runny nose
  • Itchy red eyes that have a light sensitivity
  • A fever that could run as high as 40C (104F)
  • Small spots on the inside of the cheeks that are grey in appearance

A couple of days after those symptoms appear, you might notice a reddish brown blotchy rash that usually starts on the neck or upper head.

Is Measles Contagious?

Very much so! Before the days of vaccinations, the illness would tear through schools like wild fire. The good news is that if you have had measles once, you develop an automatic immunity that prevents you from getting them again.

How Is Measles Treated?

Since measles is a virus, it does not have a specific treatment. Plenty of rest and drinking fluids (no alcohol) will help move things along. There are a number of over the counter treatments that can help, so be sure to ask your doctor for some suggestions.

Do I Need to See a Doctor?

It’s a good idea to see a doctor if you have measles. If your child has the illness, call ahead first, as the doctor may come out to see you.
If any of the following symptoms occur after the initial diagnosis, you may want to pay another visit to the doctor:

  • A painful cough
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Impaired hearing
  • Ear pain

What Are the Effects of Measles?

There are a number of complications that can arise as a result of this illness, and they include ear infections and pneumonia. 1 in 1000 children can even develop encephalitis or meningitis, which can cause deafness, and even death in rare cases.

How Can I Prevent Getting Measles?

The most effective form of prevention is to have the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Children get this in 2 doses as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. Children aged 13 months get the first dose, and then receive the second before they start school.

Children and adults that have not previously been fully vaccinated can do so at any age.

If you would sooner not submit to the MMR vaccine, you can go with human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) treatment, which should be done if you are immediate risk of measles.

Measles and Pregnancy

If you are pregnant and contract measles, there is a risk of complications for both you and your unborn baby. The measles virus can cause premature birth, low birth weight, and even miscarriage. It’s crucial to take preventive measures to protect yourself and your baby.

During pregnancy, your immune system is slightly weakened, making you more susceptible to infections like measles. If you haven’t been vaccinated against measles or haven’t had the illness before, you should avoid exposure to anyone with measles.

If you develop measles symptoms during pregnancy, seek immediate medical attention. Your healthcare provider may recommend treatments to help manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Measles in Infants

Infants under one year old are at a higher risk of developing severe complications from measles, including pneumonia, brain inflammation (encephalitis), and even death. This is because their immune systems are still developing and unable to fight off the virus effectively.

To protect infants, it’s recommended that all children receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The first dose is typically given at 12-15 months of age, and the second dose is administered between 4-6 years old.

If an infant is exposed to measles before receiving the vaccine, they may be given an injection of immune globulin (IG), which can provide temporary protection against the virus.

Measles and Immunity

Once you’ve had measles, your body develops antibodies that provide lifelong immunity against the virus. This means you cannot contract measles again, even if exposed to the virus.

However, if your immune system is compromised due to certain medical conditions or treatments, such as chemotherapy or an organ transplant, you may lose this immunity. In such cases, your healthcare provider may recommend revaccination against measles.

Measles and Travel

Measles is still common in many parts of the world, and outbreaks can occur even in countries where the disease was previously eliminated. If you plan to travel internationally, it’s essential to ensure you and your family are up-to-date with the measles vaccination.

Before traveling, check for any measles outbreaks at your destination and take necessary precautions. If you develop measles symptoms during or after your trip, seek medical attention immediately and inform your healthcare provider of your travel history.

Photo “Measle Virus” by Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Health

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of Home Health Tests and Earplugs

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