Most infants in Singapore are given a vaccination against measles that is why getting the infection is unusual nowadays. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about measles and the complications can still be fatal for children because of such myths.
To understand what measles are, let’s dispel some misconceptions about it.
How the Infection Occurs
Measles is a highly-contagious disease, but you don’t see outbreaks anymore since the vaccine was introduced in 1963. Before the vaccine, the most affected were children younger than 5 years. The virus can be passed through air as well as direct contact with an infected person. It primarily affects the respiratory tract and will spread throughout the body.
When a person is infected, an incubation period between 10 to 14 days happens. No symptoms will show up during the incubation period. One common misconception is that chicken pox and measles are caused by the same virus, but they are not despite having the nearly the same symptoms.
Symptoms of Infection
The first symptom is a high fever which can last for up to 7 days and is often accompanied by sore throat, inflamed eyes, cough, and runny nose. Some parents might mistake these signs for flu, but small red spots or rashes will also show up. Fever can run as high as 105°F in some patients. Four days after the rash appears, the infected person has the highest chance of passing on the virus to other family members.
Complications of Measles
Parents should worry about complications in children younger than 5 years or family members who have weak immune systems or are malnourished. Complications include dehydration, diarrhea, encephalitis, ear infections, respiratory infections, and blindness. Unvaccinated children have higher risk of developing complications, and if there are other children in the family, there is also a high risk of transmission.
Another member of the family can be infected through sneezing, coughing, personal contact, or contact with the nasal or throat sections. The virus is most active 4 days before the rashes erupt. Some people who have been vaccinated against measles but have not developed the immunity for it can still get measles, but routine vaccinations give everyone a better chance of avoiding complications.
The vaccine is usually given with the mumps and or rubella vaccines and is usually given before the first birthday of the child. In total, two doses of the measles vaccine are given to give a higher chance of protection against the virus. Family members who love to travel and have not been vaccinated should be encouraged to update their vaccinations to prevent transmission of infections to other family members.
Treatment of Measles
Measles cannot be treated you are already infected, but the best that can be done is to try to avoid complications from the infection. This means preventing dehydration, using antibiotics to treat eye/ear/respiratory infections, and maintaining good nutrition. Some children are given vitamin A supplements to reduce the chances of blindness or damage to the eyes.