Measles: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Is that measles or an innocent rash you spot? Learn more about the warning signs, causes, and treatment options for this highly contagious infection.

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Measles: What Is It?

Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious infection that affects the respiratory system and often results in a skin rash. The infection is more common among children. However, it can be contracted at any age. 

Most people with measles recover completely after treatment, but there are instances when a person can fall very ill and develop health complications. In 2003, there were over 30 million cases of measles worldwide. About half a million of these cases ended in death.  

Read on to learn more about this potentially life-threatening viral disease.

Measles Causes and Risk Factors 

Measles is caused by a virus that lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of an infected person. The virus spreads easily through direct contact with the saliva or mucus of an infected child or adult, whether through coughing, sneezing or contact with contaminated surfaces.  

Measles Symptoms and Signs 

Symptoms of measles usually start to appear 10 to 12 days after you come into contact with a contagious person. 

Early symptoms include coughing, a runny or stuffy nose, malaise, red eyes, tearing and a fever. Two to four days after these initial symptoms surface, bluish-white spots known as Koplik's spots may start to appear on the inside of your cheeks. These are accompanied, either at the same time or slightly later, by a skin rash spread across your face, neck, trunk, limbs, palms and the soles of your feet.

In some cases, the infected person’s lymph nodes may also swell. Diarrhoea, vomiting and inflammation of the eyes are also associated symptoms of measles.

Do note that a person infected with measles may not exhibit any symptoms a day or two after contracting the disease. But he or she continues to be contagious. 

Complications of Measles

Most patients recover completely from measles. However, the infection can lead to an ear infection and pneumonia in older individuals. 

In rare cases, measles may cause encephalitis — an acute inflammation of the brain — and increase the risk of seizures, epilepsy, mental disability, coma or death. In some cases, measles may also attack a person’s digestive organs, heart muscle or kidneys.

Spotting Measles

Doctors can usually diagnose measles through a physical examination and assessment of your symptoms, which should include Koplik’s spots and a red skin rash. If necessary, a blood test can also be conducted to determine if the rash on your skin is a symptom of measles. 

Measles Treatment Methods

There is no specific treatment for a measles infection. However, doctors can prescribe treatments to relieve symptoms such as a fever, cough or rash discomfort. Antibiotics may also be given to patients who have developed bacterial pneumonia or otitis media — an inflammatory disease of the ear.

Be sure to steer clear of aspirin if your child has measles as it could increase his or her risk of developing Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.

Self-care

The following measures may help speed up your recovery from measles:
​Get plenty of rest and avoid exerting stress on your body  
Keep yourself hydrated with water and fruit juice to replace fluids lost during a fever
Boost your immune system by eating more fruit and vegetables
Take care of your eyes. Some people with measles are very sensitive to bright light. Dim the lights at home or wear sunglasses if it is too bright outdoors

Measles Prevention Methods

You can protect yourself from measles by getting the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps and rubella. In Singapore, children require two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose of MMR is given at 12 months of age and the second dose is given between 15 to 18 months of age.

Women who are planning a pregnancy should ensure that they are adequately immunised against measles and other contagious diseases that may affect their unborn child.

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Measles: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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