Measles is a highly infectious illness caused by a virus. The virus lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of people with this infection. Physical contact, coughing and sneezing can spread the infection. In addition, infected droplets of mucus can remain active and contagious for around two hours. This means that the virus can live outside the body - for example, on surfaces and door handles.

What are the symptoms of measles?

  • A high temperature, sore red eyes and a runny nose usually occur first.
  • Small white spots usually develop inside the mouth within a day or so,which persist for several days.
  • A harsh dry cough
  • Loss of appetite, tiredness,  aches and pains
  • Diarrhoea and/or vomiting
  • A red blotchy rash normally develops about 3-4 days after the first symptoms. It starts from forehead and neck, and spreads down the body within 2-3 days. The rash turns a brownish colour and gradually fades over a few days.Most children are better within 7-10 days. An irritating cough may persist for several days after other symptoms have gone. The immune system makes antibodies during the infection, which provide lifelong immunity. It is therefore rare to have more than one bout of measles.

How is measles diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose measles from the combination of your symptoms, especially the characteristic rash and the small spots inside your mouth. However, a simple blood or saliva test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis.

What are the possible complications of measles?

Complications are more likely in children with a poor immune system (such as those with leukaemia or HIV), those who are malnourished, children aged under five years and adults.

More common complications include:

  • Conjunctivitis (eye infection).
  • Laryngitis (inflammation of the voice box).
  • Ear infection causing earache.
  • Infections of the airways, such as bronchitis and croup, which can be common

Less common complications of measles are:

  • A febrile convulsion (fit) occurs in about some, this can be alarming, but full recovery is usual.
  • Brain inflammation (encephalitis) is a rare but very serious complication.
  • The sympyoms are drowsiness, headache and vomiting which starts about 7-10 days after the onset of the rash. Encephalitis may cause brain damage. Some children die from this complication.
  • Hepatitis (liver infection).
  • Pneumonia (lung infection) is a serious complication. Typical symptoms include fast or difficult breathing, chest pains, and generally becoming more ill.
  • Squint is more common in children who have had measles.

What are the treatments for measles?

There is no specific medicine that kills the measles virus. Treatment aims to ease symptoms until the body's immune system clears the infection.

Children should drink water, juices,liquids to prevent dehydration.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken to ease fever and aches and pains.

Antibiotics may be prescribed if a complication develops, such as a secondary bacterial ear infection or secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Cough remedies have little benefit on any coughs.

Vitamin A supplements have been shown to help prevent serious complications arising from a measles infection.

Measles immunisation

Immunisation is routine part of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Two doses are usual - the first for children aged between 12 and 13 months and the second usually given at age 3 years and 4 months to 5 years.

Is measles infectious?

Yes - it is very infectious. It is passed on by coughing and sneezing the virus into the air. It takes between 7 and 18 days to develop symptoms after being infected. You are infectious and can pass it on to others from four days before to four days after the onset of the rash. Therefore, children with measles should not mix with others and should stay off school.

What if I come into contact with someone with measles?

Some people have not been immunised against measles. Also, some people are more prone to complications if they get measles. In particular, people with a poor immune system, pregnant women and young babies under the age of 12 months. If you or your child comes into contact with someone with measles, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. And most importantly, if you or your child are in a group more prone to complications.And, if necessary, offered immediate immunisation or a protecting injection of antibody (immunoglobulin).

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