An infectious disease characterized by its reddish brown rash, measles might sound like an illness of yore. However, the truth is that an estimated 100,000 people a year still die from this disease—and many of them are children under the age of five. And 2019 has already seen the second highest outbreak of measles cases since its eradication in 2000!
Also known as rubeola, measles is particularly dangerous in children, older adults, and individuals with immune systems weakened by leukemia or another condition. And because it’s highly contagious—90% of those who encounter an infected individual go on to develop the disease—measles is not an illness to be taken lightly.
Read on to learn about the symptoms and causes of measles, as well as tips for preventing this disease in yourself and loved ones.
Measles Symptoms to Know
If you’ve been exposed to measles, you can expect symptoms to show up approximately 10 to 14 days after coming into contact with the disease. The first measles signs tend to be relatively mild and may include fever, runny nose, cough, and sore throat. In the days that follow, measles symptoms become more pronounced and may include:
- A high fever (up to 104° to 108° F)
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Muscle aches
- Light sensitivity
- White spots on the mouth inside the cheeks
- A reddish-brown, raised skin rash starting on the face and spreading to the trunk and limbs
In rare cases, measles patients may suffer complications such as vomiting and diarrhea, eye infection, breathing difficulty, miscarriage or preterm birth, and seizures. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment in the event that you or a loved one is suffering from this condition.
What Causes Measles?
Measles is caused by the rubeola virus, which replicates in patients’ noses and throats. When a person with measles talks, sneezes, or coughs, droplets contaminated with the disease travel through the air. Not only can individuals contract measles by breathing in the infected droplets, but they can also acquire the disease by touching a contaminated surface. It’s important to note that droplets remain contagious for several hours.
While anyone can contract measles, certain people have a higher risk of getting sick. This category includes:
- Individuals who haven’t gotten the measles vaccination
- Individuals who travel internationally and/or in developing countries
- Those with a vitamin A deficiency
- Those with HIV or another condition that weakens the immune system
The MMR vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from getting measles. However, in recent years, many individuals have opted not to get vaccinated. According to a letter published in JAMA, CDC researchers say that measles is on the rise, with transmission rates doubling in recent years. They go on to attribute the measles outbreak to individuals not getting the vaccine.
In recent years, some parents have objected to vaccinating their children because of a misguided belief that vaccinations can lead to autism. However, multiple studies have demonstrated that there is no link between vaccines and the development of this mental health condition.
If you’ve already contracted measles, you may be able to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms by getting a post-exposure vaccination. This injection is only effective during the first 72 hours of exposure. In some cases, the post-exposure vaccination can stop a patient from developing measles altogether.
Additionally, patients with weakened immune systems, infants, and those who are pregnant may be given an immune serum globulin to prevent them from getting measles. These injections can also reduce the severity of symptoms and help prevent complications. However, they must be given within six days of measles exposure.
If you already have measles, there are medications you can take to reduce symptoms and expedite recovery. Because high fevers are common measles symptoms, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter fever reducers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, to bring down your temperature. Also, taking vitamin A can help reduce the severity of measles symptoms. Ask your doctor about the appropriate dosage for children and adults with measles.
Finally, measles patients can expedite their recovery by drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier in the bedroom, and getting enough rest.
You can take steps to prevent measles or, if you have the disease, to avoid passing it to others. Because measles is very contagious before and after the rash shows up, individuals who think they have measles should stay home from work, school, and other activities. It’s particularly important to avoid contact with people who haven’t been vaccinated, including infants under six months.
While measles has a low death rate, the disease can be fatal in young children and those whose immune systems are compromised. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get the MMR vaccine.