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Facts about measles

Published:Wednesday | February 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

There is a current outbreak of measles in the United States, which has recently spread to Mexico. The Caribbean, including Jamaica, has been measles-free since 1991. It is important for us to maintain this status and so, the Ministry of Health has increased efforts to ensure that as many persons as possible receive the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. This is the best way to protect against measles.

Here are some facts you should know about measles:

What is measles?

Measles is a serious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (breathing tubes) that causes a rash and fever. It is extremely contagious and can even cause death in rare cases.

How is measles spread?

Measles spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes spreading respiratory droplets or airborne spray to another individual.

One can catch measles by being in the same room as an infected person, even up to two hours after the person has left the room.

Almost everyone who is exposed to measles and never got the MMR vaccine will catch the disease. Infected persons are most contagious three days before the rash develops on them.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles usually begins with a very high fever. The incubation period usually lasts from 10 to 12 days between catching the virus and the beginning of the fever. Other symptoms may include:

n Runny nose, cough, pink/red eyes

n Rash consisting of tiny red spots and bumps starting from the head and spreading to the rest of the body

n Bluish-white spots (Koplik's spots) on a red base inside the mouth

n Loss of appetite

n Tiredness

n Aches and pains

n Diarrhoea

How serious is measles?

Measles can cause a number of complications, especially in babies and young children. These include:

n Ear infections and deafness

n Febrile seizures (fever associated with fits)

n Pneumonia (serious lung infection)

n Lifelong brain damage

n Blindness

n Death

How is measles


Measles can be diagnosed based on the typical clinical appearance of infected individuals but can also be detected by

special blood tests. Other tests may be ordered based on the symptoms that are present.

How is measles


There is no cure for measles and so treatment is geared towards the symptoms, to make the individual more comfortable. These include medication for itching, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. Specific treatment, like antibiotics, may be prescribed to treat complications of measles. In some cases the person

has to be hospitalised.

When should the MMR

vaccines be given?

In the past it was recommended that the first MMR vaccine (MMR1) should be given at 12-15 months of age and the second (MMR2) at four to six years. However, this has recently been changed. The new recommendations are for the first vaccine to be given at 12 months and the second at 18 months.

The vaccine is safe and serious side effects are rare.

n Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas; email: