Measles: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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

Measles: What Is It?

Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious viral 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 may fall very ill and develop health complications or even cause a death. There have been millions of measles cases worldwide, with numerous deaths. Locally, there are about 30 to 150 measles cases reported each year.

Vaccination against measles is the best way to prevent infection. Read on to learn more about this potentially life-threatening viral disease and how you can protect yourself and your child against infection.

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 during this time. 

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, pain, cough or rash discomfort. Be sure to avoid 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.

Antibiotics are generally not given for measles because antibiotics do not work on viruses. However, with measles infection, some patients might get really sick and develop a secondary bacterial infection such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) or otitis media(inflammatory infection of the ear). These secondary bacterial infections may require antibiotic treatment. It is important that the doctor assess your symptoms to determine if you have developed a bacterial infection before starting any antibiotics.

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 fruits 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 vaccinated against measles. In Singapore, there are two types of combination vaccines that protect against measles. The  MMR vaccine prevents measles, mumps and rubella and the MMRV vaccine prevents against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox). In Singapore, children require two doses of a measles vaccine. The first dose of MMR or MMRV is given at 12 months of age and the second dose of MMR or MMRV is given between 15 to 18 months of age. Either MMR or MMRV are safe and will provide adequate protection against measles.

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.

Click here for more information on vaccine-preventable diseases, subsidies available and frequently asked questions. 

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