Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that primarily affects children. The disease is characterized by rash in the form of red spots on the skin and by fever. The virus not only spreads via direct contact, but also by coughing. Anyone who has had measles once, cannot have it again.
Measles is caused by a very infectious virus, the Morbillivirus. The virus is located in the nose, mouth and throat. It is transferred via saliva droplets in the air when coughing or talking. The virus can also be transferred from one to the other via the hands, via cutlery and cups or via toys. Measles is so contagious, that keeping distance and washing hands won’t help.
After infection, it takes about ten days before the child gets sick. Measles is contagious from two days before the first symptoms until four days after the spots have appeared.
Measles starts with cold, cough, red eyes and fever. The fever is often high. White spots emerge on the inside of the cheeks. After a few days there are red spots on the face, and then all over the body. The spots vary in size, gradually get brown and may merge. Then spots remain with normal skin color. The skin may also itch. The fever can disappear and come back severely again.
In some children, measles develop seriously. They get ear infection with sometimes permanent deafness or severe pneumonia. Inflammation of the brains or meninges also occurs, often with permanent brain damage. Severe forms of measles occur mainly in children under the age of five years or in adults who haven’t been vaccinated.
The diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and the characteristic rash. Sometimes, the doctor takes samples with a swab from the throat, eyes and nose of the patient. In the laboratory can be checked if there is measles.
There are no medicines for measles. Sometimes, doctors prescribe antibiotics for children who also have another infection (with bacteria), for example ear infection or pneumonia. There is no specific treatment for measles, usually one gets better on its own. However, there is a vaccine available to prevent people from getting sick. After vaccination, almost all children are protected against measles. If a person is already infected or suspected to be infected, a vaccine may have a protective effect within three days after infection. Worldwide, eighty percent of the children are vaccinated against measles.
In healthy, well-nourished children, measles is rarely serious. A child with measles usually heals after seven to ten days. The child can sometimes continue to cough for a week.
- Give the child extra drinks and possibly a popsicle when it has fever. Food is less important.
- In case of fever, the body must be able to get rid of the heat. Therefore, choose thin clothing loosely around the body. In bed is a bed sheet often enough. If the child is cold or shivering, it can be temporarily extra covered.
- Make sure the child gets enough rest. It doesn’t have to stay in bed and may even go outside.
- Give the child some extra attention, for example reading aloud or playing a game together.
- If necessary, give paracetamol so that the child feels less sick.
- To some extent, patients can ensure not to infect others with the virus. This can be done by keeping the hand over the mouth and nose during coughing and sneezing. Then wash the hands clean. It’s also better to use a tissue and throw it right away after use.
- Report the infection at school or daycare, so other parents know that their child might be infected. A child with measles that goes to school or daycare every day, has already infected its classmates before it becomes clear that it has measles.