Understanding Measles- Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention

By Cristina Tullio, RN, BNI

March 22, 2024

What is Measles? How does it spread?

Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the measles virus. It spreads through airborne transmission, meaning it gets into the air when someone with measles coughs, sneezes, breathes and speaks. The virus lingers in the air and on the surface for up to 2 hours, so you can catch measles without even being close to someone or by simply being in the same room as someone infected with measles. It's important to note that individuals infected with measles can be contagious up to four days before the rash appears, making it challenging to contain the spread of the virus.

Symptoms to Watch For

The initial symptoms of measles often resemble those of a common cold and typically appear about 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. These symptoms include:

  • Fever (a hallmark symptom)

  • Coughing

  • Runny nose

  • Body aches and pains

  • Red eyes

  • Light sensitivity

  • Koplik spots (tiny white spots in the mouth)

  • One distinctive symptom of measles is a red blotchy rash (flat red spots, sometimes raised) that typically starts on the face and head before spreading down the entire body. The rash typically appears 3-5 days after other symptoms.

Complications of Measles

While many people recover from measles without serious complications, it can lead to severe health issues, especially in vulnerable populations such as young children under 5 years of age or those with weakened immune systems.

Complications of measles may include:

  • Ear infections

  • Pneumonia

  • Swelling of the brain (encephalitis), which can cause permanent brain damage, seizures, hearing loss, or even death

Prevention and Importance of Vaccination

There are simple things we all can do every day to help keep everyone safe. Here’s what you can do:

  • Wash your hands well and often

  • Keep your distance from sick people

  • Stay home if you're feeling sick

Vaccines: Your Best Defense

After doing all these things, the most effective way to prevent measles and its complications is by getting vaccinated. The measles vaccine, usually administered as part of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, is safe and highly effective. In fact, being fully vaccinated against measles is almost 100% effective at preventing infection.

You are considered protected against measles if:

  • You were born before 1970

  • You were born after 1970 and have proof of receiving

    two doses

    of the measles vaccine (MMR, MMR II, RRO, RRO II, or Priorix)

  • You have medical confirmation of having measles before January 1st, 1996

What to Do If You Suspect Measles

If you suspect that you or your child may have measles or have been exposed to someone with the virus, it's crucial to take action promptly. Isolate yourself or your child from others and seek medical advice immediately. Timely medical assessment is essential for proper diagnosis and management of measles.

Conclusion

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can lead to serious health complications, especially in vulnerable populations. Vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent measles and its associated complications. By staying informed about the symptoms of measles, practicing good hygiene, and ensuring that you and your family are up to date on vaccinations, you can help protect yourself and others against this preventable disease.

At KixCare, we're here to support you with any questions or concerns you may have about measles, vaccination, or your child’s health. Our team is dedicated to providing timely assessments and peace of mind for you and your family.

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