Common Conditions: Measles

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. It is now uncommon in the UK due to the effectiveness of vaccination. However, since 2016, there has been a rise in cases because take-up of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has fallen. The UK, therefore, no longer has ‘measles-free’ status.

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. It is now uncommon in the UK due to the effectiveness of vaccination. However, since 2016, there has been a rise in cases because take-up of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has fallen. The UK, therefore, no longer has ‘measles-free’ status.

Infection

Anyone can get measles if they have not been vaccinated or have not had it before, although it’s most common in young children. The measles virus is contained in the millions of droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can easily catch measles by:

  • breathing in these droplets
  • touching a surface the droplets have settled on and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth (the virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours).

Symptoms

Symptoms of measles can include:

  • cold-like symptoms, such as a sneezing and a cough
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature which may reach around 40°C
  • small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks.
  • A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear. This usually starts on the head or upper neck before spreading outwards to the rest of the body.

Treatment

Contact a GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or a child have measles. There is no specific treatment for measles, but to relieve symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection:

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease fever and aches
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • close the curtains to help reduce light sensitivity
  • use damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
  • stay at home for at least four days from when the rash appears – people stop being infectious after four days.

Complications

Complications include infections of the lungs and brain. So, go straight to your A&E department if you or a child is developing: shortness of breath, chest pain, drowsiness, confusion, fits – or is coughing up blood.

Once you have had measles, your body builds up immunity to the virus and it is unlikely you’ll get it again.

 

Adapted from www.nhs.uk/conditions/measles

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