Written by: Cally Worden
Measles is a viral illness that spreads with alarming ease and ferocity. It can be utterly miserable for those who contract it, in some cases it can lead to serious health complications. Thanks to the MMR vaccine, measles is now relatively unusual in the UK. The vaccine is not 100% effective however and not all children receive it, either as a result of parental preference, or other reasons that prevent it being taken. This means that measles remains very present as a threat to a significant minority of the population.
Symptoms usually appear around 10 days after infection. They can include sensitivity to light and red eyes, cold-like symptoms, a fever and white/grey spots inside the mouth and in the throat. Anyone who suspects a case of measles should speak to their GP as soon as possible.
Who is at Risk?
Most children or adults who have received both doses of the vaccine are protected, although there have been isolated cases where vaccinated individuals appear to have contracted the illness, albeit in a milder form. Anyone can catch measles, but it is most commonly seen in children aged 1-4 years. After you have had the virus, once your body builds up an immune resistance to it, it is highly unlikely that you will catch it again.
Measles is a nasty illness in its own right, but in some cases it can lead to even more serious medical conditions, such as pneumonia and encephalitis. Affecting the lungs and brain respectively, these two conditions in particular can be very dangerous, especially in a child or adult who is vulnerable. Those most at risk from developing complications from measles include:
- Babies under 1 year old
- Children in poor general health, or with weakened immune systems
Statistics suggest that one in every 5000 people who develop measles, will die as a result of serious complications. It is for this reason the parents are strongly advised to vaccinate their children. Many parents opted out of the vaccine after a report that it increases the risk of children developing autism. The findings of this report have been widely challenged and are now believed by experts to be incorrect. They state that the vaccine is safe.
There is no treatment for measles itself – it is a virus and the body must fight it and develop and immunity by itself. There are, however, ways in which patients can be made to feel more comfortable, and these include:
- closing the curtains to create a dim environment that helps soothe sensitive eyes
- taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to help reduce fever and diminish aches and pains across the body
- drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- using damp cotton wool to gently clean the eyes
Where the symptoms are especially severe and if a risk of complications is suspected, then a person with measles may be admitted to hospital for specialised care and treatment.
The only prevention currently available for measles is the MMR vaccine. This is offered in one dose to children when they are 12-13 months old, with a second booster dose needed to make it as effective as possible given between 3 and 5 years of age.