Is measles fatal? - Know the risk factors and complications
The war on measles can be won if we, as parents who have nothing but their kid’s well being in mind, do our part by staying vigilant and informed. After all, the front line of prevention begins in every home.
Measles is a potentially life-threatening disease. Fortunately, the Department of Health (DOH) has implemented a nationwide immunization program that aims to eradicate the disease in 2017.
Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease caused by a virus.
The rubeola virus is so potent that being in the same room with someone who has measles in a short span of time, or having face-to-face contact with them, is enough to expose one to the virus.
The disease is characterized by a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms including high fever, runny nose, and cough. Measles can also go to the lungs and central nervous system.
- Runny nose
- Dry cough
- Red eyes or inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Koplik’s spots or red spots that have bluish-white centers found in the lining of the mouth
- Sore throat
- Splotchy red rashes appear after a few days, starting on the face first or behind the ears and then spreading to the rest of the body
Measles symptoms appear 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
The infection plays out in this sequence in a period of two to three weeks:
10-14 days after exposure to the infection is the incubation period. During this time, none of the measles symptoms mentioned above appear.
These are symptoms shared with other diseases hence cannot be used to determine the contraction of measles. These start with mild fever, runny nose, dry cough, inflamed eyes and sore throat.
Rashes and illness
Rashes occur a few days after non-specific symptoms arrive. From the head, the rashes spread to the upper body, limbs, thighs, lower legs and then the feet. The rashes are accompanied by a sudden high fever of 40 to 41 C.
Eventually, the rashes fade from the face, thighs and from the feet last.
Continue reading to know the causes of measles and how it is transmitted
Measles is caused by the virus from the paramyxovirus family. It replicates in the nose and throat of the sick child.
This is why droplets that are expelled from an infected child, through coughing or sneezing, are highly contagious.
Airborne droplets can be inhaled by others. They can also remain active on surfaces, so anyone who touches infected surfaces and uses his hands to rub his eyes or puts his fingers in his mouth can contract measles.
A child becomes contagious for approximately eight days: four days before the rashes start and four days after the rashes begin.
The most contagious phase is when the child has fever, cough and runny nose. Those with a weakened immune system (i.e. suffering from HIV or AIDS) are contagious until they have fully recovered.
Continue reading to know about the risk factors, complications and tests to be taken when measles is diagnosed
- Not receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine
- Being in or traveling to a developing country or a country recovering from natural disasters or experiencing conflict
- Damage to health infrastructure and overcrowded camp areas enable the virus to spread faster
- A deficiency in vitamin A increases the chances of contracting measles and suffering from severe measles symptoms
- Diarrhea and ear infection that may lead to hearing loss
- Encephalitis or brain swelling
- Low platelet count
- Pregnancy problems such as loss of the unborn child, low birth rate and preterm birth
Tests and Diagnosis
The doctor can diagnose the disease from the presence of rashes and Koplik’s spots. However, if it is necessary, a blood test is doneto determine the virus.
Continue reading to learn about treatments, drugs and remedies that can alleviate the discomfort brought about by measles
Treatments and Drugs
Since measles is caused by a virus, there’s no specific medical treatment. The virus simply has to run its average 10-day course.
- Acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen can be given to help relieve fever symptoms. Stay away from aspirin, which causes Reye syndrome.
- Antibiotics can be given to combat bacteria should a child be suffering from an ear infection or pneumonia, for example.
- Vitamin A helps decrease or lessen the severity of measles symptoms.
It is important to monitor a child infected with measles for any complications that may arise.
- Isolate a sick child to avoid contaminating the rest of the household.
- Give plenty of fluids such as fruit juice, nilaga soup or milk.
- Use humidifiers to relieve coughing.
- If the child is bothered by bright light, use soft lighting in the room or cover the window. Avoid giving him tablets or smartphones or allowing him to watch TV. Encourage him to rest his eyes.
- Encourage a child to rest well.
Note: Because measles is highly contagious, it's best for those caring for an infected child to use surgical masks to avoid contracting the virus.
Continue reading to learn the MMR vaccine and the anti-vaccine movement
The MMR vaccine is administered first to babies between 12 and 15 months and again when they reach four to six years of age.
Infants are generally protected from measles until their sixth month because of immunity passed on from their mothers (who should have had the shot before their pregnancy).
In times of an outbreak, the individual measles vaccine may be given to a baby six to 11 months old, followed by the usual MMR immunization.
The anti-vaccination movement
In 1998, a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a study which claimed that autism was also caused by the MMR vaccine. When the article was thoroughly investigated, the research was found to be unethical and compromised, and was thus ruled out to be false.
In fact, in 2010 the journal that published the anti-vaccine article recanted and publicly admitted that the report was wrong.
However, that one fabricated report was enough to power an anti-MMR movement that brought down vaccinations in developed nations and consequently increased the number of measles incidences.
The United States, which was declared measles-free in 2000, had a measles outbreak in January 2015. The measles virus from the outbreak is identical to the virus that circulated in the Philippines in 2014, which infected around 53,000 people and killed 110.
Who shouldn't receive the MMR vaccine?
- Pregnant women
- Children who have untreated tuberculosis
- Those with weakened or compromised immune system
- Those being treated for cancer (either drugs or radiation)
- Those who are severely allergic to gelatin or neomycin (an antibiotic); they would most likely experience severe reactions to the vaccine
- Those who have had a low platelet count
- Those who recently received blood transfusion
- Those who were vaccinated within the last four weeks