Measles is a contagious disease caused by the paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. According to the World Health Organization, Measles is one of the leading causes of death among children. What remains surprising is that the vaccine for measles is readily available and cost effective but the disease is still in the top list of morbidity among children. More than 95% of measles deaths happen in low income countries. Children under the age of five are more susceptible to the fatality of this disease.
The virus is being transmitted through direct contact with nasal and throat secretions of the infected person. It can also be transmitted through close personal contact with an infected person or indirectly via coughing and sneezing. The virus usually grows in the back of the throat and the lungs. About 90% of people without immunity to the disease can acquire the infection when living with an infected person in a shared space. When the virus is expelled into the air or introduced on surfaces, the virus can be active and contagious for two hours. The infected person can infect others four days prior to manifesting rash and four days after the rash erupts.
Measles is characterized by cough, coryza, conjunctivitis and four-day fever. These classical symptoms often manifest after 10 to 12 days of exposure to the virus and usually last up to 7 days. Koplik’s spots or white spots inside the cheek can develop. These spots are the diagnostic for measles but are not seen in all cases because it disappears on the first day when measles arises.
Measles develops a rash that is described as generalized red maculopapular rash. The rash first begins days after the fever starts. It often starts in the head before spreading to other parts of the body such as the face, neck, trunk, hands and feet. The rashe lasts for five to six days after eruption. It can cause staining and it usually turns dark brown when it heals. Children who are malnourished and deficient of Vitamin A are more susceptible to acquiring this disease.
Most deaths occur because of the complications of measles. Measles can cause dehydration due to diarrhea. Measles can also cause ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and corneal ulceration. Complications are more severe in adults who acquire the disease.
Treatment for measles is symptomatic. Antibiotics are required for complications such as pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections and bronchitis. Hospitalization and close monitoring are needed for measles encephalitis. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen is given for fever and pain. For uncomplicated measles, patients will recover with rest and supportive treatment such as proper hydration, good nutrition and treatment for fever.
Routine measles vaccination is the best prevention for measles. Vaccines are safe, inexpensive and effective. Cases of measles are reported among people who are not immunized by the disease. The measles vaccine can be administered in a single form or in combination with rubella and/or mumps. Either way, both are proven to be equally effective.