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Dr Chris Steele



What is measles?
Measles is a highly infectious common disease that is potentially dangerous. Measles is like a 'heavy cold with a rash!' The child looks miserable with a runny nose, sore eyes and a cough. A red rash follows and spreads all over the body - no wonder it's often called 'Miserable Measles'!

Measles makes the child unwell before the rash appears.

Before the rash:
Commonest symptoms to appear are:

  • Cough
  • Runny Nose
  • Red, runny, sore eyes
  • High temperature - up to 40oC
  • Headache

All these last for 3 - 5 days.

Your doctor may look inside your child's mouth to check for grey-white specks on the inside of the cheeks. These are called Kaplik's spots, which only occur in measles.

The rash
After 3-5 days of cold-like symptoms, the rash appears first behind the ears and on the neck, then on the trunk, the arms and then the legs. This will last for 4 - 5 days.

Once the rash has appeared, you may then be able to work out who your child was in contact with about 2 weeks ago. Among those friends there will probably be one or more who has come down with measles!

The skin looks blotchy and the spots vary from pink to dark red. The blotches often merge to form a large red mass. The spots do not usually itch. Pale brown staining of the skin occurs as the rash fades. This staining disappears over the next ten days.

1 in every 15 children with measles will suffer a complication such as deafness, bronchitis, pneumonia, convulsions or even encephalitis (inflammation of the brain.)

These are serious problems, which can be avoided by having your child immunised with MMR vaccine.

Who gets measles?
Anyone who has not had measles or who hasn't been vaccinated and has been in contact with someone who actually has the disease or is incubating it. A child incubating the disease may appear well or may just appear to have a cough or a cold, because they have not YET developed the obvious measles rash.

What causes measles?
Measles is caused by a type of virus called a myxovirus. The virus is spread in tiny droplets of saliva from an infected child when they cough or sneeze - even before they have the rash! 10 - 14 days after being in contact with an infectious child the symptoms may start to appear.

Can you prevent measles?
The only effective way to prevent your child from catching measles is to get him immunised.

How should you treat measles?
At home:

  • Keep temperature down (see fever control article)
  • Cool room, cool sponge, cool drinks, cool bed
  • Give paracetamol syrup
  • Give plenty of fluids frequently
  • Consult GP to confirm diagnosis

Call G.P. if:

  • Fever does not respond
  • Earache develops
  • Cough worsens
  • Fits or drowsiness develop
  • You are at all worried!

An antibiotic may be prescribed for a chest infection or an ear infection. The antibiotic does not clear up the measles. There is no cure for measles, it will clear up on its own.

50% of the children who die as a result of measles are healthy children who have NOT been vaccinated.

Measles is RARE under the age of 9 months because babies receive protection from their mother's antibodies.