Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can lead to a number of serious complications and even death in children. While this disease is easily preventable with a vaccine, it still claims the lives of children all across the world. In India, it is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in children and accounts for one-third of all measles-related deaths across the world. Death rates due to measles have been falling all over the world, thanks to the vaccination. Globally 80% of the measles deaths have decreased due to vaccination since 2000-2017. Yet, this disease claims more than 100,000 lives across the world, which are mostly children under the age of 5 years.
Symptoms of measles
The main symptoms of measles start appearing after 10 to 14 days from the day of contracting the virus. The major symptoms of measles are-
- High-grade fever
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Inflammation in the eyes- conjunctivitis
- The appearance of small white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background, on the inside of the mouth, mainly on the cheek lining. These spots are known as Koplik’s spots.
- Large skin rashes which are composed of flat, red blotches that flow into one another.
Stages of measles
The infection progresses through several stages over the course of 2 to 3 weeks. A brief overview of the various stages is mentioned below.
- Contracting the infection and incubation- As mentioned above, it takes 10 to 14 days for the signs of measles to first appear. During this time, the virus incubates inside the body and shows no symptoms.
- Generic symptoms- Measles begins with relatively mild signs such as fever, coughing, runny nose, conjunctivitis, and sore throat. These symptoms usually last for 2 to 3 days.
- Appearance of rash and reaching acute stage- Blotchy, red rashes first appear on the face and upper neck. Some of these rashes are slightly raised and they appear in clusters. Over the course of time, these rashes spread lower along the body and arms. With the spread of the rashes, the fever begins to spike reaching temperatures as high as 104 F. Subsequent to this, the rashes begin to go away, at first from the face and then from rest of the body.
Causes and risk factors
Measles is caused by a virus of the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. Upon inhalation, the virus infects the respiratory tract and then spreads throughout the body.
Measles virus is concentrated in the nose and throat of the infected patient. When a patient affected by measles sneezes or coughs, the virus is spread into the air and can infect others when inhaled. It can be transmitted by an infected person from 4 days prior to the onset of the rash to 4 days after the rash erupts. The infected droplets that are released upon sneezing or coughing can land on surfaces where they remain infectious for several hours. After touching such infected surfaces one can contract the disease by putting their fingers in their mouth, nose or eyes. Children less than 5 years are the most commonly affected ones although it can affect adults too, with risk factors like:
- Not getting vaccinated- Vaccines for measles are available today that are effective at preventing the disease. If one remains unvaccinated, there is an increased chance to get infected.
- International travel- If one is traveling to countries where measles is still prevalent, then one is at risk of contracting the disease. It is advised to check one’s medical history and get the proper vaccines before traveling.
- Immunodeficiency conditions- those suffering from diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or other conditions which weaken the immune system are at risk of the disease as well as the complications and death if such population gets infected.
- Vitamin A deficiency- The risk of getting measles and the severity of symptoms increase when there is a deficiency of vitamin A in the body.
Complications associated with measles
Measles presents itself with some serious complications-
- The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), ear infections, severe diarrhea, and related dehydration.
- Measles may cause inflammation of the air canals that go to the lungs (bronchial tubes) and the voice box (larynx).
- Another common complication of measles is pneumonia. Pneumonia is especially fatal in patients who have a weak immune system such as young children.
- Measles also causes issues with pregnancy. Expecting mothers with measles can experience preterm labor, low weight of the baby upon birth and even maternal death.
For children in countries with high measles case and death rates, routine measles vaccination and mass immunization campaigns are an absolute necessity to curb global measles deaths. The measles vaccine is being used for over 50 years. It is safe, effective and inexpensive.
A doctor should be consulted as soon as possible after coming in contact with the virus or when the symptoms begin to show up. You can now download the mfine app and begin online consultation with the top doctors the very instant you need to.