Measles is an infection caused by the Rubeola virus that has been around for centuries. Before the development of the measles vaccine in 1963, measles epidemics occurred every few years, primarily affecting children, as it was so contagious. Measles is seen all over the world though the number of cases in the US has reduced dramatically after routine vaccination against the disease began in earnest.
There are two types of measles each caused by a different type of virus. The Rubeola virus causes what is generally referred to as plain measles and characterized by cough, cold, fever, and a skin rash all over the body. This is also known as hard measles and in rare occasions can lead to encephalitis or pneumonia that is life threatening. In general however, people recover from this strain of measles without any long lasting health problems. German measles is caused by the Rubella virus and while this is a minor infection often lasting for only three days or so, it can cause serious birth defects if you catch this disease when you are pregnant.
Some groups are at a higher risk of picking up measles, like infants who are less than one year old (since they have not yet been vaccinated), if you have not received your proper series of vaccinations as recommended by the CDC, or you have received the measles vaccination before 1967 (which was older and more ineffective). Measles is still a deadly disease in some parts of the world, though there have been no recent cases of fatality in the US. Complications as a result of measles are more often due to malnourishment or low immunity than the disease itself.
The symptoms of measles start appearing only ten to fourteen days after the virus affects a person. This is called the incubation period and during this stage, the virus quickly multiplies in your body. The early symptoms of measles include:
A few days after the onset of these symptoms you will start noticing a red rash that starts on the face and then spreads to the arms, legs, and trunk. This rash consists of small raised reddish bumps that from a distance look like uniform red patches on the skin. This rash is not itchy but as you recover, there may be some peeling and irritation caused. You may also develop bluish-gray spots called Koplik Spots on the inside of your cheeks. This rash lasts for around five days with the fever reducing only a few days after the appearance of the rash.
Measles rarely causes any serious side effects or complications. However, if your immunity is low (due to malnourishment or HIV), there is a tendency to develop other conditions such as pneumonia, ear infections, or inflammation of the brain that can even be fatal.
The symptoms of German measles are much milder with an incubation period of ten days. Symptoms include:
If you contract German measles as an adult it can cause aching joints especially around the knees and wrists. The most severe complication associated with German measles is the possibility of severe birth defects caused when a pregnant woman contracts the virus and passes on the infection to her unborn child. German measles during pregnancy may even cause premature labor and stillbirths.
The measles virus is spread through droplet transmission. This happens when someone infected with the virus sneezes or coughs, in effect contaminating the air around with the virus. A person infected with measles is most contagious for four days before and after the rash appears. The virus can remain airborne for a few hours in droplet form and infect anyone it comes in contact with. The virus will then invade the body through the respiratory membranes and enter the bloodstream where it will multiply quickly over the next ten days. However, if you have been immunized through the vaccination or have contracted measles before, the virus will not cause infection.
Both regular and German measles are transmitted this way. Remember if you have been vaccinated for one or have had one strain of measles earlier, it does not mean the other virus cannot infect you in the future. Since both types of measles are highly contagious, the disease can spread very rapidly in a population that is not immunized against the virus.
Measles treatment largely involves symptomatic relief. If you have measles the best thing you can do is rest in bed until the fever, cough, and cold have abated. This will also prevent other people from getting infected and spreading the disease. The patient should in fact be kept in isolation for at least ten days after the infection abates. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids throughout the day. Lukewarm sponge baths may help reduce the fever and body aches, and using a vaporizer or humidifier may ease the discomfort of your cough and cold. Fever can also be controlled using warm water enemas to remove toxins from the body. There are no specific medical remedies for measles apart from painkillers and medicines that reduce the fever. It is best to keep yourself as comfortable as possible and let the infection run its natural course. Children (and adults) should be kept in a well-ventilated room that is away from direct light. The eyes get very sensitive during measles and should be kept shaded to prevent further fatigue or irritation.
The only proven way to prevent measles is with the measles vaccine. The CDC recommends a schedule of vaccines that immunize children against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). This vaccine called the MMR or the MMRV (Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella) needs to be administered before the age of 12 for optimum efficacy. Generally two doses of the MMR vaccine are recommended before the age of one. Check with your doctor or pediatrician for the complete list of vaccinations and proper dosages for your child.
Home remedies for measles:
As the condition improves, the child can be placed on an all-fruit diet for a few days. After this the child can be put on to a more regular routine diet, but one that is very well balanced.
The fibrous content of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with the vitamins made available through the consumption of these fruits, plays a very important role in recovery from an illness such as measles.
A proper diet can speed up recovery from measles especially in the case of children who are infected. Try to avoid the consumption of spicy foods, and processed foods in particular because of the high sodium content. An all fruit diet is highly recommended during the first few days of the infection. Fresh fruit juices such as lemon and orange are highly beneficial due to their high vitamin C and fiber content. The patient can also be put on a soft food diet consisting of fruits such as grapefruits, cantaloupes, and grapes, bland soups, and whole grain cereals. Once the symptoms recede and the infection is on a wane, a balanced diet of fresh vegetables and fruits and foods high in vitamins and minerals is essential and a natural treatment for measles. Coffee, carbonated beverages, over-processed meals, oily and fatty foods have to be avoided both during and after the infection. Your fluid intake is crucial in a measles infection and you should make it a point to consume adequate water, as well as other fluids like fruit juices. This will help to prevent dehydration.
Once you have been infected with the measles virus, you have lifelong immunity. Vaccinations against measles have also improved immunization against the disease. However, since most children do not receive the entire round of vaccines before the age of one, there is a higher risk of infection between one to one and half years of age. The measles vaccine can cause a low fever as well as a light rash in some children. Women who go through the vaccination procedure in adulthood complain about aching joints as well.
Pregnant women should get a blood test to check for immunity against German measles. There is a special immune globulin immunization for high-risk patients such as pregnant women and children below the age of one that can help prevent measles.