everything you need to know about this infection

O measles Measles is a viral infection, characterized by red patches on the skin, fever, cough, conjunctivitis and runny nose. It is usually a mild disease, but in some cases it can be severe and even fatal.

Since the measles vaccine is included in the National Vaccination Plan (PNV), the disease is currently less frequent in Portugal, although it can still occur, especially in children.

What is it, causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention?

What is measles?

Caused by an RNA genome virus (paramyxovirus of the morbillivirus group), measles is a highly contagious disease, transmitted from human to human by air, through droplets of saliva or aerosols, i.e. droplets suspended in the air after the infected person has coughed or sneezed.

The disease primarily affects children in the first year of life. However, measles can also affect children over one year of age or adults who have not been vaccinated against measles, and it is most common in the summer and fall.

The first symptoms of measles are quite similar to those of the flu or common cold and appear eight to 12 days after contact with an infected person.

Early signs and symptoms of measles

These are generally the most common symptoms of measles:

  • Initially, after an incubation period of 7 to 14 days, general malaise appears, accompanied by fever, then runny nose, conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes), and dry cough. Often, the patient also feels an irritation in the throat;
  • In some cases, white spots then appear in the mouth, inside the cheek, about one to two days before the appearance of spots on the skin, better known as Koplik spots ;
  • Finally, the rash appears (the red spots, which first appear on the face and then spread to the trunk and limbs), especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. At this stage, the fever reaches 39 to 40 degrees and the patient is extremely tired, both physically and mentally;
  • Patches of skin may be associated with itching, especially on the ears and neck;
  • The patches appear as red, irregular, flat patches that rapidly increase in size. After one or two days, they spread from the face to the trunk, arms, and legs, and begin to disappear from the face.

measles

Period of contagion

Measles is a highly contagious disease and infection can occur as early as four days before and as late as four days after the appearance of skin patches, with a longer period of infection in immunocompromised patients.

What to do if you have measles symptoms?

When there are symptoms of measles or when the disease has already been diagnosed, it is important that the patient avoid contact with others so as not to contaminate others. As a precaution, this care should be maintained for up to four days after the onset of the rash (appearance of spots on the skin).

Your doctor should order blood, urine, and oral secretions tests to confirm the diagnosis.

At this point, you should tell your doctor who you have been in contact with during the period of active infection.

If you have been in contact with an infected person, you should, if you have not been vaccinated or have never had measles before, get vaccinated within 72 hours of exposure, if possible.

If vaccination is contraindicated, the person may receive immunoglobulin, preferably for up to six days.

Treatment

Most people recover by treating only the symptoms.

Because it is a viral disease, antibiotics are not effective against the virus, but are often prescribed by doctors to treat certain complications of the disease, such as pneumonia or ear infection, if they occur.

In all cases, it is important to consult a doctor, either a general practitioner, if the patient is an adult, or a pediatrician, which is more common, because measles is a disease that affects more children.

To relieve symptoms, it is important to:

  • Rest;
  • Relieve itching with warm water baths and application of soothing lotions, including calamine.
  • Take medication to lower fever and relieve cough if recommended;
  • Take a vitamin A supplement, as low serum vitamin A levels are associated with severe measles disease. Thus, particularly in developing countries, vitamin A supplementation has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality from these cases.

Prevention

Vaccination is the primary form of measles prevention. Vaccination is free and available to everyone nationwide and is part of the NIP.

The first dose is recommended at 12 months of age and the second at five to six years of age, before the start of compulsory schooling.

People who have not been vaccinated and have never had measles have a high chance of getting the disease if they are exposed to the virus.

Possible complications of measles

Complications of measles occur most often in children under five years of age and in adults over 20 years of age, the most common being pneumonia, diarrhea, and otitis media. Acute encephalitis is another possible complication.

During the acute phase of the infection, transient hepatitis may occur.

Reading this text does not dispense with the advice of a health professional and treatment of measles always involves medical consultation.

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