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Measles: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About measles

Measles is a predominantly respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. Instead of the availability of the safe and effective vaccine for measles, it has remained one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, especially in developing countries.

Measles: Incidence, age and sex

Measles usually occurs in children. According to data published by the WHO, over a million people die from measles (mostly children under the age of five) worldwide, every year.

Signs and symptoms of measles: Diagnosis

The first symptoms of the illness usually develop 10-12 days after the exposure to virus and they include high fever, muscle pain and loss of appetite. This is accompanied with cough, runny nose and red eyes. Sometimes bluish grey spots may appear in the mouth, which are known as Koplik’s spots. However the most prominent feature of measles include a diffuse, reddish brown skin rash, which first erupts on forehead and then proceeds down the body to involve the limbs. The rash lasts for five to six days, and then fades with peeling of the skin. The fever generally subsides after the appearance of the rash.

The diagnosis of measles is usually based upon the characteristic signs and symptoms presented by a sick person or child (as mentioned above).A blood test reveals the reduced count of white blood cells and rarely, viral serology is needed to confirm measles.

Causes and prevention of measles

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that spreads through droplets from nose, mouth, or the throat of an infected person while, sneezing and coughing. A person with measles is contagious from 1 to 2 days before symptoms start until about 4 days, after the rash appears.

People who have had an active measles infection or have been vaccinated against the measles have lifelong immunity to the disease. The measles vaccine is safe, effectual and inexpensive. Infants are generally protected from measles for 6 months after birth due to the immunity passed on from their mothers. For most babies, the measles vaccine is part of the measles-mumps-rubella immunization (MMR) given at 12 to 15 months of age and the booster dose at 4 to 6 years of age.

Measles: Complications

The major complications following measles could be middle ear infection, pneumonia, blindness, encephalitis (inflammatory reaction of the brain tissue) and sometimes inflammation of the liver tissue. Severe measles complications occur in malnourished children or persons with weak immune systems, mostly due to HIV or treatment of malignancy.

Measles: Treatment

There is no specific medical treatment for measles as it is a viral infection and to let the virus run its course. Only symptomatic treatment along with plenty of fluid intake and adequate nutrition is advisable. Patients need to take adequate rest and should be kept in isolation to avoid further spread of infection. They should be monitored closely. The antibiotics may be given to treat secondary bacterial infections of the eyes, ears and the lungs. Children from developing countries may need supplements with doses of vitamin A to prevent eye damage and blindness.