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Measles: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Synopsis: The first sign of measles is commonly a high fever that starts around 10 to12 days after exposure to the virus.1

Author: Disabled World Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2015-02-05

Main Digest

Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease that is caused by a virus. In the year of 1980, prior to widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths every single year. The disease is still one of the leading causes of death among young children around the world today, despite the availability of a vaccine that is safe and effective. The year of 2013 found measles killing 145,700 people, mostly children younger than five years of age. Measles is caused by a virus in the, 'paramyxovirus,' family and is usually spread through direct contact and via the air. The virus infects a person's mucous membranes and then spreads throughout their body. Measles is a human disease, meaning it is not known to affect animals.

Increased immunization has had a large impact on the reduction of deaths due to measles. During the years 2000-2013, measles vaccinations prevented around 15.6 million deaths. Global measles deaths have decreased by 75% from an estimated 544,200 deaths in the year 200 to 145,700 deaths in 2013.

Some important facts concerning measles include the following:

Measles Signs and Symptoms

The first sign of measles is often times a high fever, something that starts around 10-12 days after exposure to the virus. The fever lasts between 4-7 days. A cough, runny nose, watery and red eyes and small white spots inside the person's cheeks may develop during the initial phase. After a number of days a rash occurs, usually on the person's face and upper neck. Over a three day period of time the rash spreads and eventually reaches the person's feet and hands. The rash lasts for around five or six days and then fades. The rash tends to occur within 7-18 days after the person is exposed to the virus.

The majority of measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Complications are more common in children younger than age five or adults who are over the age of twenty. The most serious complications include:

Severe measles is more likely among children who are poorly nourished, particularly children with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other forms of diseases.

In populations with high levels of malnutrition and a lack of appropriate health care, around 10% of people with measles result in the death of the infected person. Women who become infected while they are pregnant are also at risk of severe complications and the pregnancy might end in miscarriage or pre-term delivery. People who recover from measles are immune for the remainder of their lives.

People at Risk of Measles

Young children who are not vaccinated are at greatest risk of measles and its complications, to include death. Un-vaccinated pregnant women are also at risk. Any person who is non-immune may become infected.

Measles remains common in many developing counties, especially in portions of Asia and Africa. The overwhelming majority of measles deaths happen in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures. Measles outbreaks may be particularly deadly in countries experiencing or recovering from a conflict or natural disaster. Damage to health infrastructure and services interrupts routine immunizations and overcrowding in residential camps presents increased risk of the infection.

Transmission of Measles

Measles is highly-contagious and is spread through coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, or direct contact with infected throat or nasal secretions. The measles virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours. The virus may be transmitted by an infected person from four days before the onset of the rash to four days after the rash appears. Measles outbreaks can result in epidemics which cause a number of deaths, particularly among children who are young and malnourished. In countries where measles have been largely eliminated, infections imported from other countries are still an important source of infection.

Treating Measles

There is no specific antiviral treatment for the measles virus. Severe complications from measles might be avoided through supportive care that ensures:

An oral rehydration solution replaces fluids and other essential elements that are lost through diarrhea and vomiting. Antibiotics should be prescribed to treat ear or eye infections and pneumonia.

Every child in developing countries who is diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements administered 24 hours apart. The treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that happen even in well-nourished children. It may help to prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have been shown to reduce the number of deaths from measles by half.

Preventing Measles

Routine measles vaccinations for children, in combination with mass immunization campaigns in countries with high incidence of the virus, are both important health strategies to pursue in order to reduce global measles deaths. The measles vaccine has been in use for more than 50 years and is safe, effective and inexpensive to boot. The cost of a measles vaccination is about a single U.S. dollar.

The measles vaccine is many times incorporated with rubella and mumps vaccines in countries where these forms of illnesses are an issue. When I attended Western Washington University, the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination was mandatory, for example. Adding rubella to measles vaccination increases the cost just a little and permits shared delivery and administration costs.

In 2013, around 84% of the children in the world received a dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended in order to make ensure immunity while preventing outbreaks, as about 15% of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from their first dose.

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Cite Page:

Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Electronic Publication Date: 2015-02-05. Last Revised Date: 2015-02-05. Reference Title: Measles: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment, Source: <a href=>Measles: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment</a>. Abstract: The first sign of measles is commonly a high fever that starts around 10 to12 days after exposure to the virus. Retrieved 2021-02-26, from - Reference Category Number: DW#48-11210.