Measles: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, And Prevention

In the last few decades, scientists have been able to make significant advancements in the medical field. Before these advancements, millions were killed each and every year by viruses and bacteria that cause infection in the human body. Even though some of these infectious microorganisms are still lurking around in some areas of the world, highly effective vaccines and other preventative methods have been developed to help reduce the occurrence of such diseases.

Measles is a disease that contributed to the death of over two million people each year at one point in history. Through the development of vaccines, scientists and healthcare systems have brought this number down to around 100,000 people each year. Continued campaigns are being promoted to help make people more aware of the vaccine and to reduce further the annual fatality rate linked to measles.

What Is Measles?

Measles is classified as a viral infection. The disease easily transmitted between people and can be deadly to a child. No pharmaceutical drugs have been approved to be used in the treatment of measles, but many people do recover from the disease through supportive care. Measles also goes by the names morbilli and rubeola. The disease is caused by a virus microorganism that enters a person’s body. When their immune system is not protected against the virus through the use of a vaccine, then the virus can start to multiply in their bodies. This will cause them to develop the measles infection and also symptoms associated with the disease.

What Causes Measles?

While the virus that causes this disease is commonly referred to as the “measles virus,” it should be noted that there are around 21 different strains of this virus that can cause a child to become infected and develop symptoms. The scientific name for the virus species that cause a person to contract the measles infection is paramyxovirus.

One important fact about measles is to know that two different types of the disease have been identified. Each of these types is caused by a different type of virus. These two viruses include the rubella virus and the rubeola virus. Rubeola viruses cause the common type of this disease that is known as “red measles.” When a person is infected with the rubella virus, they will develop what is commonly called German measles.

German measles is considered a less dangerous infection when compared to red measles, or the common type of measles. More serious complications can occur in patients who develop German measles. In particular, women who contracted German measles while pregnant can pass the infection over to their unborn baby, which may lead to birth defects.

What Are The Symptoms Of Measles?

When measles is brought up as a topic, the first thing a person thinks about is usually the common red rash that is caused by the infection. The disease can cause many other symptoms as well, which all parents should be educated about. When it comes to looking at the symptoms of the disease, it is important to break down the symptoms into the two main types of measles that have been identified.

German Measles

German measles usually causes less serious symptoms, and they tend to clear up rather quickly. Once a person is exposed to the virus and becomes infected with German measles, it may take up to two weeks before they start to experience any symptoms.

The early symptoms that may develop before the common “measles rash” occurs, may include:

  • A low-grade fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Red eyes

A couple of days after these symptoms have started to develop, the patient will find that a rash starts to form on their skin. At this time, the patient’s lymph nodes may become tender and swollen as well. The lymph nodes located at the back of the patient’s neck are most likely to be affected.

The rash that is caused by German measles does not itch in most cases. The patient may find that their skin sheds when the rash starts to clear up.

Red Measles

This is a more serious form of measles that may take up to 14 days to produce symptoms after a patient has been infected with the virus that is associated with this disease. There are two phases of red measles.

The first phase includes early symptoms that will appear before a rash develops. These symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • A runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • A lethargic feeling
  • A loss of appetite

As the infection progresses, it will start to enter phase two. This is when the patient develops a rash and typically occurs within the first four days after the first phase has developed.

Some patients who develop red measles may find that Koplik spots develop on the inside of their cheeks. These are small spots that have a grayish appearance. This symptom does not develop in all patients who are infected with the Rubeola virus.

Is Measles A Contagious Disease?

A vital factor that all parents need to be aware of is that measles is considered to rank at the top of contagious diseases, especially when looking at infectious diseases that are caused by viruses. The disease most commonly spreads among children. Measles becomes contagious before the virus causes a patient to develop any type of symptoms. In fact, most people who spread the disease to others may not be aware that they are doing so, as they are not yet aware that they have been exposed to the virus that causes measles.

The virus resides within the respiratory tract of the patient before they will start to experience symptoms associated with the infectious disease. When bodily fluids are expelled from the patient’s body, either through sneezing or coughing, they are spreading the virus. Any person who comes into contact with these bodily fluids of the infected person, most likely completely unaware of it, will be at risk of catching the virus and developing the disease.

A person who is immune to the virus will not become infected again, but the fact that there are two different types of viruses that cause measles to make it a little more complication. When a person was infected with one of these viruses in the past but exposed to the other in the future, they may not be immune to that type of measles virus. This means that may then develop this disease again.

Can Measles Cause Death?

An important fact that all parents should realize is that measles is a very serious disease and it can cause death. The reason why these facts are so important is that the infectious disease is most often diagnosed in children. The year 2016 marked the first time where less than 100,000 deaths caused by measles were throughout the world was recorded in a single year. The recorded deaths were 89,780. These statistics presented a reduction of 84% in deaths related to measles when compared to statistics that were presented by the World Health Organization in the year 2000.

How Is Measles Diagnosed?

The majority of patients who reported to a doctor with symptoms associated with measles can be diagnosed based on the clinical characteristics they present. This would, of course, include the well-known red rash. The inside of the patient’s mouth may also be examined to look for Koplik’s spots. In some cases, however, a doctor may perform additional tests to make sure that the rash is caused by measles and not another health condition. Blood tests can be ordered to determine if there are antibodies against the viruses that cause measles in the patient’s body.

How Is Measles Treated?

No treatments have been developed to target measles specifically. There are, however, some pharmaceutical interventions that have been proven helpful in patients who have been infected. Post-exposure vaccines can be given to a patient if they have been exposed within the past 72 hours. Immune serum globulin injects are also given to some patients.

Should the disease cause complications that involve a bacterial infection, the patient may be treated with antibiotics. In many cases, vitamin A will also be given to the patient to reduce the severity of the disease. Certain medications can also be used to bring down the patient’s fever.

 

Rubella also is known as German Measles is a virus that is different to the one causing "normal" measles. Rubella was once a common childhood disease. Although infectio is very low in Canada and the US, it is still possible for cases to occur throughout the world. 

How Can Measles Be Prevented?

A vaccine has been developed to help reduce the prevalence of this disease. All parents are advised to ensure their child obtains the appropriate vaccine since measles can be a deadly disease in some children. Individuals who may be travelling to a location where the disease is still somewhat common should also be vaccinated.

Health Canada has recently announced that vaccines should be provided to any person who wishes to travel to 16 different areas within Europe. Most concerns were raised for individuals planning to travel to Germany, Italy, Ukraine, and Romania.

Conclusion

Measles is an infection that is caused by a specific type of virus. Individuals exposed to the virus who have not been previously immunized against the virus can develop measles. The disease is mostly found among children and poses a threat to their general well-being. Untreated, measles can cause the infected child to die.

Even though considered eliminated from the United States, the infection can still occur in children that live in the U.S.A or in Canada, as it is a highly contagious infection. Prevention plays a key role in reducing the prevalence of measles and can also be a life-saving solution for anyone who will be travelling with their child to an area where the disease is more common.