Measles is a viral infection, which is easily transmitted and highly contagious. Anyone who has not been vaccinated can become infected, but it remains most common in children between the ages of one and four. Others considered to be at risk include people with suppressed immune systems (such as HIV and cancer sufferers), pregnant women, those who are malnourished and children with Vitamin A deficiency, BBC Health states.
What are the symptoms?
The most distinctive symptom of measles is the appearance of red-brown spots on the surface of the skin. This rash usually appears three to four days after infection and lasts for up to eight days, according to the NHS. It tends to appear behind the ears, spreading around the head and neck, then to the legs and rest of the body.
Around 9 to 11 days after infection, the sufferer usually starts to experience the following:
- A fluctuating temperature and fever
- Cold-like symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, aches and a runny nose
- Red, watery eyes and sensitivity to the light
- Small, white spots surrounded by red (called Koplik spots) inside the mouth and throat
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea
- Irritability and tiredness
Some, but few, develop complications. These can include pneumonia, hepatitis, conjunctivitis and encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain which occurs in around one in 5,000 cases, the BBC reports).
Measles is caused by the rubeola virus. The most common way of becoming infected is by breathing in the droplets released by an infected person when they cough or sneeze. Unlike many other viruses, rubeola can survive outside the body for several hours. So it is possible to get the illness by touching a surface with infected particles on it and then placing the hands near the nose or mouth. Once inside the body, the virus multiplies in the back of the throat and lungs before spreading.
Those who have already had measles are highly unlikely to get it again, as the body builds up a resistance to the virus.
How is it treated?
Today, prevention is more common than treatment in the case of measles. Since the introduction of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, cases of measles have declined drastically. Children should be vaccinated at around 13 months of age and receive a booster dose before they start school.
Once infected, and assuming there are no complications, the sufferer will usually have to ride out the symptoms, which usually take between 7 and 10 days to clear. Getting plenty of rest is crucial during this period.
The following home remedies may ease recovery, the NHS point out:
- Using liquid baby paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches
- Closing curtains and dimming the lights to aid light sensitivity
- Gently cleaning the eyes with damp cotton wool
- Drinking plenty of water
- Placing a bowl of warm water in the room to make the air more humid
Hospital treatment may be needed in severe cases and if there are any complications.
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