With the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988, immunising children against measles, mumps and rubella made sure that measles became a much less common occurrence. So much so that many parents today may have little to no experience of the virus.
Over the past few years, measles cases have gradually increased, likely due to a reduction in the uptake of the MMR vaccine. This month health officials in England have confirmed around 100 cases of the infection. Outbreaks such as this are confirmed not only in England, but also across Europe, and it is suspected that non-immunised persons who have travelled to these areas may have brought the virus home with them. Because of this rise in cases of measles, and the potentially life-threatening nature of the infection, health officials are urging more parents to accept the MMR vaccine for their children.
Measles – Signs and Symptoms
Measles is highly contagious and can be potentially fatal. Although anyone can become infected with the measles virus, it is most common in young children. Symptoms will begin to develop at around 10 days after a person becomes infected with the virus. Initial symptoms may appear cold or flu-like, and may include a runny nose, sore, red eyes, a cough, aches and pains, loss of appetite, and a high temperature. You may also see small, greyish-white spots appear on the inside of the cheeks.
What generally distinguishes measles is the appearance of a red-brown rash which will usually begin on the head or upper neck before spreading. These spots do not appear in every case of measles, but if they do it will usually be for a few days, appearing around 2 to 4 days after initial symptoms have started showing.
Information On The MMR Vaccine
The MMR vaccine is usually offered to children within one month of their first birthday, with a pre-school booster at 3 years and 4 months of age. Adults who are unsure of whether they have had the full dose of the vaccine should be particularly aware of the risks of the illness. Babies of 6-9 months of age who are considered particularly at risk may be recommended the vaccine especially during incidents of measles outbreaks.
Although there have been fears that this vaccine could be linked to cases of autistic spectrum disorder and some bowel disorders, the NHS confirms that the vaccine is both safe and effective.
Adults and older children who were not vaccinated as babies can also receive the vaccine on the NHS. You can check with your GP if you are unsure – though having an extra dose is unlikely to harm you and can be worthwhile.
What To Do In Cases Of Measles
If you suspect you or your child may have measles, you should contact your GP immediately. You can do this during normal surgery hours, or by contacting your local out of hours service by calling NHS Direct on 111 in the evening or at weekends.
It is important that you call 111 if you suspect measles as opposed to going to your surgery or out of hours service. You may be putting others at risk of infection, including babies under the age of immunisation and older people who have not been immunised.
You should also contact your GP if you or your child have recently come into contact with someone who has measles if you or your child have not been vaccinated. You should do this even if no symptoms are displaying.
There is no specific treatment for measles, but you will be advised to stay away from work or school for at least 4 days from the first appearance of the rash.
Complications From Measles
Although most people recover from measles in 7 to 10 days, an estimated 1 in 5000 people will die as a result of the virus. Other more common complications can include diarrhoea and vomiting, conjunctivitis, laryngitis, pneumonia, and febrile seizures (fits caused by a fever). These sorts of complications are normally seen in 1 in every 15 children infected with measles.
Less common complications include hepatitis, meningitis, and encephalitis. In rare cases, measles can lead to serious eye disorders, including blindness, and a serious brain disorder called Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE). This is only seen in around 1 in every 250000 cases of measles.
For pregnant women, a measles infection can lead to miscarriage, still birth, premature birth, or a low birth weight.
For more information on measles and the MMR vaccine, you can visit the NHS website.