What Is Measles?
What is measles and how can you treat it? Is it preventable? Once common, measles is less so now because of vaccination (MMR).
What is measles and what causes it?
Measles is an infectious childhood disease that causes a skin rash. The rubeola virus causes it. It is also called red measles or seven-day measles. Although a childhood disease it can affect adults, too. Once a rite of childhood, measles has become much less common in North America. Measles is considered the most serious contagious childhood disease because of the complications associated with it: pneumonia, encephalitis and meningitis. Other complications are croup, ear infection, conjunctivitis and hepatitis.
Another form of measles is called rubella or German measles (three-day measles). It is also caused by a virus but is a very mild infection. Symptoms appear 2 to 3 weeks after exposure to the virus, and include mild fever and a skin rash. If a pregnant woman contracts rubella early in her pregnancy, the chances of birth defects are as high as 80 percent. These defects include deafness, blindness, heart damage and small brain.
What are its symptoms?
The disease starts with a high temperature of 102 degrees F. followed by fatigue, loss of appetite and cold symptoms of runny nose, sneezing and coughs. Red eyes, sensitivity to light and tiredness will follow. After about 3 days a red blotchy rash starts on the face, then spreads to the rest of the body. The rash lasts for up to a week. The fever starts to go down on the second or third day of the rash. There may be peeling of the skin after the rash goes away.
Is it preventable?
Immunization has been available since 1963. It is difficult to prevent a disease caused by a virus but one of the best ways of preventing the disease is immunization all infants when they are 15 months old. It is recommended that the vaccine be given again before the child starts school. This vaccine is usually given in the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR). Once you have had a case of measles or received the measles vaccine, you have lifetime immunity to the disease.
Is it contagious?
Measles is a highly contagious disease. Measles is so contagious that a non-immunized person in the same household as a person with measles will almost always develop the illness. It is most common in late winter and early spring. When a child gets the measles, its because he or she has been exposed to someone else who had them 10 to 12 days earlier. The measles virus is spread by body fluids from the nose, mouth or throat, either on infected articles or through coughing and sneezing etc. It can be caught by others three to six days before the rash appears and possibly several days after the rash starts.
How long does it last?
Once your child actually has the measles, there’s not much that can be done to shorten the illness. Your child will probably be sick for about seven days; three days before the rash starts and four while the rash is breaking out. The rash starts to fade in another 3 days. He or she will start feeling better by the fourth day of the rash unless other complications occur. Complications could include eye or ear infections, pneumonia and meningitis.
How is it treated?
Treatment for this problem involves what you can do, and what your doctor can do. Here's what you can do: The eyes may be sensitive to light and be irritated with a discharge. Wipe the eyes with a clean, wet facecloth and avoid rubbing. Keep the lights low or the room darkened. Sunglasses should also be helpful. Humidify the air with a cool mist vaporizer or set pans of water in the room. Give the patient plenty of fluids, 12 to 16 cups a day during the fever. Stay in bed during the fever and avoid aspirin. Aspirin can cause complications that lead to Reye's Syndrome. Eat a normal diet and avoid contact with others. Children can usually return to school five to six days after the rash started. Your doctor may prescribe antipyretics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other non-aspirin products.
If any of the following problems are present you should seek emergency care:
Blue or purple lips or nails, convulsions, extreme difficulty in breathing, inability to speak more than three or four words between breaths, confusion or excessive drowsiness, severe headache and stiff neck, bleeding from the nose or mouth or into the skin or dark purple splotches on the skin.
See your doctor if any of these problems are present: Sore throat, earache or tugging at the ears, yellow discharge from the eyes or nose, labored breathing, fever that comes back after temperature that has been normal for a day or more or fever that continues past the fourth day of the rash.