What is Measles?
Measles or Rubeola, sometimes known as English measles is an extremely infectious and a severe viral infection which affects the respiratory system, predominantly a paramyxovirus which is best distinguished for causing a total-body skin rash accompanied by flu-like manifestations. About 90% of individuals without immunity to the disease sharing living space with an infected person will get it.
Prior to widespread vaccination, measles was so frequent especially throughout childhood that most individuals became ill with the viral infection by twenty years of age. Vaccination has significantly trimmed down the number of cases over the last several decades to almost none in United States and Canada, but still isolated occurrences still occur. However lately, the rates start to rise again. Measles continues to be one of the leading causes of childhood deaths worldwide in spite of the accessibility of a safe and successful vaccine. Though rare in US, globally, about 20 million people are affected each year. In many developed countries, mortality is 1 of every 1000 population. In sub-Saharan Africa, mortality is approximately 10%. On average, approximately 450 children pass away every day because of measles.
Some children do not get vaccinated because their parents have baseless concern that MMR vaccine, a vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella can affect the child’s mental development making the child autistic. A number of clinical studies involving thousands of subjects have concluded that there is no relationship between MMR vaccine and autism. Not allowing their children to be vaccinated can lead to outbreaks of any of these diseases, all of which are potentially severe childhood medical conditions.
Measles comes in two forms, namely, rubeola and rubella, each caused by an unlike virus. Both produce rash and fever but they are really two different conditions. The rubeola virus produces red measles. People with this condition may recover without complications but still it can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis in rare instances. The latter virus causes an individual to develop German measles or a three-day-measles. This is milder than rubeola however significant birth abnormalities may result if an infected pregnant woman transmits the virus to the unborn child.
Causes and Mode of Transmission
In fact, the measles virus is among the most contagious viruses known to man. Like rubella virus, the mode of transmission of measles is through inhalation of respiratory droplets from an infected individual who coughs and sneezes. It can also be spread via close personal contact or direct contact with throat secretions. As the virus is released to the air from respiratory tract, it still remains active and highly contagious in the air or in any surfaces for about 2 hours. The incubation period ranges from 6 to 19 days.
If an individual has immunity to the virus through vaccination or history of measles, they cannot get the disease again. Rubella and rubeola are two different diseases caused by two different viruses, so an infection with one of these does not protect an individual from the other disease.
Measles Rash Symptoms
Originally after about eight to twelve days consequent to the exposure to the virus, the patient show signs of hyperthermia reaching up to 40 °C which persists for seven days. The fever is accompanied by 3 C’s, namely, cough, coryza or runny nose, and conjunctivitis. There is an appearance of a characteristic marker of measles which are the koplik’s spots. Typically, these are tiny reddish brown blotchy spots with a blue-white center which occur inside the mouth. This sign may not always appear in all cases as this is transient and may fade away within a day of arising. The patient may also experience bloodshot eyes, light sensitivity and muscle pain. Few days after the fever starts, a facial rash erupts which spreads over a span of three days, reaching the upper and lower extremities. The full-body rash persists for about 5 to 6 days and then disappears. Classically, the rash produced by measles is described as generalized, maculopapular and erythematous in kind.
While vast majority of individuals survive measles, complications are expected to happen fairly frequently which can be potentially fatal. Measles can cause complications, which can range from being relatively mild to less serious. These complications are comparatively common which include diarrhea, pneumonia, bronchitis, otitis media, encephalitis, ulceration of the cornea and corneal scarring. If adults get infected, the complications are usually more serious.
For rubella or German measles, symptoms are milder. The incubation period is about 10 to 14 days. At the initial stage of the disease process, patient experiences exhaustion, low-grade fever, headache and red eyes which persist for several days. Lymph nodes in the back of the neck may become swollen and tender. A light red to pink non-itchy rash appears on the face and goes down to the chest which begins as individual spots that merge together over time. If adult women are infected, joints in the hands, wrists and knees may become painful for days to weeks.
Measles Rash Treatment
The key public preventive strategies include a very strong routine measles vaccination for young children plus mass immunizations especially in regions with high mortality and morbidity cases, effective surveillance and better treatment of measles to include Vitamin A supplementation to prevent eye damage and blindness. After being exposed to the virus, administration of serum immune globulin for about six days may lessen the risk of getting measles.
It is important to place affected individuals on respiratory precautions. They must always be isolated from everyone until recovery is determined.
Although specific absolute cure for measles is not available, measures which make the disease much more tolerable are on hand. An individual who is sick should be sure to receive measures including adequate rest and sleep, sponge baths with lukewarm water for fever, drinking plenty amounts of fluid to prevent being dehydrated, the use of humidifier or vaporizer to lessen the cough, and the administration of pain relievers and fever reducers. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with symptoms if these drugs are used according to the doctor’s instruction. Take note that aspirin must not be given especially to children and adolescents as this drug may cause Reye syndrome.