Measles: Highly contagious but easy to prevent

30Apr 2019
The Guardian
Measles: Highly contagious but easy to prevent

Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus.  Symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person and last 7–10 days.

Initial symptoms typically include fever, cough, runny nose, and inflamed eyes.  Small white spots known as Koplik's spots may form inside the mouth two or three days after the start of symptoms.

A red, flat rash which usually starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body typically begins three to five days after the start of symptoms.  Common complications include diarrhea,   middle ear infection   and pneumonia.   Less commonly seizures, blindness, or inflammation of the brain may occur.  Other names include morbilli, rubeola, red measles, and English measles.

Measles is an airborne disease which spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of infected people.  It may also be spread through contact with saliva or nasal secretions.  Nine out of ten people who are not immune and share living space with an infected person will be infected.  

Measles affects about 20 million people a year,  primarily in the developing areas of Africa and Asia.  

In the first three months of this year, the World Health Organization reports that the number of measles cases has tripled over what it was last year. In Africa, the situation is worse. Africa saw a 700-percent increase compared to last year.

Dr. Anthony Fauci heads the research on infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health. The National Institutes of Health warns that a decline in measles vaccination is causing a preventable global resurgence of this often deadly disease, including in the U.S.

One in ten children who get infected with measles will get an ear infection that could cause deafness. One-and-twenty would get pneumonia. One in a thousand would get brain swelling, what we call encephalitis, and one to three per thousand would die. To say that measles is a trivial disease is completely incorrect.

Dr. Walter Orenstein at the Emory University Vaccine Centre has spent his life working to end measles. He says the complications are worse in poor countries.

 “You start off with children who are already at greater risk. They may be malnourished. They may have compromised immune systems. They may be underweight and may have no access to health care so measles is a big killer,” Orenstein said.

You have a 90 per cent chance of getting measles if you haven't been vaccinated and you come in contact with someone who has it. Dr. Rebecca Martin, heads the CDC’s centre for global health. She is working to rid Africa of measles.

"It is very infectious. It will find everybody who is not protected against measles,” Martin said.The solution is to get two doses of the measles vaccine. That may mean educating parents about both the disease and the vaccine. Equally important is making vaccination a priority of health systems worldwide.

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