Monday, 22 September 2008


There has been a noted increase in the number of cases of measles in recent years, this is thought to be as a result of parents deciding not to have their child immunised due to the controversy over the MMR vaccine.

Measles is caused by a virus that is spread by droplets. The virus is passed on through direct contact with someone who's infected, for example by touching or kissing them, or through breathing in contaminated air. It's fairly easy to catch if you haven't been vaccinated and come into contact with someone who has the infection, which is why epidemics often occurred among school children.

The infectious period is from four days before the rash to four days after it's appeared. Unfortunately, it's most infectious before the rash appears so people tend to spread the virus before they realise they have it, it is best to inform anyone who has been in contact with the child in this period that they have measles, as people of any age can get it.

It's most common among those aged between one and four, all children who have not been vaccinated are at risk from measles, and those who have problems with their immune system may have a more severe case of measles.

The symptoms take about ten to 14 days to develop after exposure to the virus, the early symptoms are like a cold, with runny nose, cough, conjunctivitis and fever, a few of days later, tiny white spots surrounded by red may develop on the inside lining of the cheeks, so they are difficult to see. The measles rash appears a day or two later, starting behind the ears or on the face and spreading down across the body.
It's a fine red rash which becomes blotchy and confluent, it fades after three to four days and should be completely gone after a week or so.

The infection isn't usually serious but there are potential complications that can be fatal, even for otherwise healthy children. These are rare but include otitis media, pneumonia, hepatitis, conjunctivitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain may develop a few days after the rash has appeared, and a quarter of those who get this complication will be left with brain damage and a devastating but extremely rare illness called sub acute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). This progressive illness may develop many years after the first bout of measles and is eventually fatal. Fortunately, it's very rare, occurring in fewer than one in 100,000 cases.

It is important to see your doctor to confirm the diagnosis as although rare, complications can be very dangerous. In most cases children may be treated at home with pain and fever-reducing syrups such as Calpol, always check it is the right product for your child age and they should be encouraged to drink fluids. Very rarely hospital treatment, with antiviral drugs, may be needed in more serious cases.