Measles: one of the many dreaded words parents to young children fear. The thought of the highly-contagious disease which puts your child through days (or weeks) of coughing, sore throat, fever and skin rash - throwing all routine out of whack - is enough to make you take them and run for cover at the sound of a sneeze.
Measles is often thought of as a generally inconvenient but not too serious ailment, like having a cold or a cough. However, the disease is much more sinister and can result in deadly consequences. It accounts for about one million deaths per year globally and can be especially harmful to children under the age of 5.
What Causes Measles?
Measles is caused by the rubeola virus that infects children who do not have the antibodies to fight it, i.e. they have not been vaccinated and lack protection against the virus.
Measles is very contagious. It’s airborne, meaning it spreads through the air via infected droplets from coughs or sneezes that are inhaled. If these droplets carrying the virus land on surfaces, a person can be infected by contact with the surface that is then ingested through touching the mouth, nose or eyes. In fact, the virus can be active on surfaces and ready to infect for several hours.
What Symptoms Should I Watch Out For?
Because measles is so contagious, almost every child who is unvaccinated and has been exposed to it will become infected. The incubation period, or time taken for the virus to multiply and symptoms to develop, is usually around 10 days. Symptoms to watch out for include:
- High fever of 103-105°F
- Runny nose
- Redness in the eyes
- Weight loss
- Rash that starts behind the ears and quickly spreads to face and neck, before spreading to rest of the body in around 3 days
- Brown discolouration left as the rash fades, for two months or longer
Why Is The Disease So Dangerous?
The symptoms of measles can also escalate and manifest into more complicated health issues, especially in children under 5 years of age or adults who are above the age of 20 years. These complications include ear infections, diarrhea and pneumonia - serious ailments for young children's’ bodies and immune systems to cope with.
Even more severe, around 1 child in 1000 affected by measles gets encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that could result in deafness or developmental disability. Measles can also cause blindness and lead to degenerative disease of the nervous system called Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), which can cause paralysis.
But Surely There Are Effective Treatments For Measles?
Measles is one of the deadliest diseases for children and is responsible for 500 deaths every day in India. Unfortunately, there is no specific medication to treat the disease, only methods to manage the symptoms and complications. Foresight with prevention through the measles vaccinations are the best bet you and your family have against contracting this disease.
So, How Can I Protect Myself And My Family From Measles?
Even though measles is a serious disease, the percentage of people being vaccinated in India is embarrassingly low, at just 66%, with this falling in several states. As a developing nation, getting our children vaccinated and spreading awareness is a social responsibility. Measles can be deadly, but it is also so easily preventable through simple vaccinations that no child should have to suffer through the dangerous ordeal.
Protecting Babies: A typical vaccine schedule involves the first dose (M-Vac) at 9 months old and the second (MMR - Tresivac) at 12 to 15 months old.
Protecting Young children: If you have not vaccinated your child at the times stated above, do it as early as possible. Children below 12 months old will be given the M-Vac measles vaccine. Those above 12 months and below 13 years will be giving the MMR (Tresivac) vaccine.
Making sure your children get the measles vaccine and spreading awareness about its importance and availability to those who do not know about the dangers of the measles is a huge positive step toward eradicating this preventable condition.
To know more about the Swasth Immunised India campaign, click here.