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How to Recognise the Signs and Symptoms of Measles

Updated on December 12, 2012

When your child is unwell, has a fever and is irritable, would you know what is wrong? Learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of measles because if your child has measles, the last thing you want to do is risk taking your child along to a clinic or doctor's surgery, because of the high risk of infecting other people.

If you suspect your child has measles, call your doctor and ask for a home visit.

Measles has an incubation period of 7 - 11 days, so if you or your child were in contact with someone with measles recently, this is the time between contact and the development of the first symptoms.

Body temperatures can rise considerably with measles - frequently to as high as 105F (40.6C) which is incredibly high.

Help reduce the temperature of your child by sponging him gently down with tepid water. Over the counter paracetamol based medications for children, like Calpol, are excellent for helping reduce temperatures.

typical measles rash
typical measles rash

Measles is rare

Thanks to inoculations, cases of measles are becoming quite rare.

Measles are spread by water droplets from an infected person coughing or sneezing which are then breathed in by people nearby.

It is a highly infectious virus and the expression "Coughs and sneezes spread diseases" is absolutely true.

Even if you have been vaccinated against measles, it is still possible to catch it.

You can expect to experience much milder symptoms that those who have not been vaccinated, as the vaccine offers some protection.

Kopliks spots which can appear inside the mouth up to 2 days either side of the cutaneous (skin rash) appearing)
Kopliks spots which can appear inside the mouth up to 2 days either side of the cutaneous (skin rash) appearing)

Treatment of Measles

Sadly there is no specific treatment for measles as it is virus and must run its course.

Your doctor will advise you to your child to stay in bed and to drink plenty of fluids, and to take paracetamol based medication which can relieve the symptoms.

typical measles rash
typical measles rash

Signs and Symptoms of Measles

The initial symptoms of measles are:

  • Runny nose
  • fever - the temperature can raise really high - up to 105F but certainly over 100F
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • red eyes and sensitivity to light ( a fever can cause this)
  • tiny greyish white spots in the throat and mouth (Kopliks spots)
  • tiredness and irritability
  • loss of appetite

Apart from the greyish white spots (Koplik's spots)in the mouth which you may not notice unless you are looking for them, there is not a lot at this point to indicate measles except for the ridiculously high temperatures.

Koplik's spots is one of the pretty definitive signs of measles to look out for.

After a few days, 2 or 4 to be more exact, a red, blotchy rash appears, usually starting behind the ears, then spreading round the head and neck first, and then the legs and the rest of the body.

The temperature may have dropped a bit, but rises again at the outbreak of spots.

The rash can last for up to 8 days, during which time the spots which started out quite small, gets bigger and spread until they join up with their neighbours.

The only good thing about surviving a bout of measles is than you will never again catch measles in your life, as your body will have built resistance against the measles virus.

The Nasty Measles Virus

Complications of Measles

While in most healthy people, measles will just run its course and leave the body without causing any lasting harm, it is really important to be on the looking for for complications of measles which CAN KILL.

Call your doctor immediately if the following symptoms appear:

  • Pain the ears
  • difficulty in hearing
  • diarrhoea
  • trouble staying awake
  • a harsh cough

The people more likely to experience complications are:

  1. children with a weakened immune system due to another illness or condition
  2. children under 5
  3. children with a poor diet
  4. adults over the age of 20

Common but milder complications of measles

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • conjunctivitis
  • laryngitis
  • otitis media (inner ear infections)
  • fitting due to high temperatures

Less common but more severe complications of measles

  • meningitis - infection of the brain lining
  • pneumonia - infection of the lungs
  • hepatitis - infection of the liver
  • encephalitis - infection of the brain - can be fatal, the symptoms include drowsiness, vomiting, headache
  • thrombocytopenia - low blood platelet count which can affect the ability to clot.
  • bronchitis - infection of the airways
  • eye squint caused by infection of the nerves and muscles of the eye

Rare complications of Measles

  • Very rarely, measles can affect the optic nerve leading to permanent blindness¬†
  • It can cause severe heart and nervous system problems¬†
  • 1 in 100,000 cases of measles go on to develop a serious and ultimately fatal condition called¬†subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), several years after measles.


How to Avoid catching Measles

Get your child the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine if he hasn't had it already.

Children should receive their first dose of the MMR vaccine at around the age of 12 - 15 months, with the second dose being given before they start kindergarten at the age of 4 to 6.

Many people have put off having the MMR vaccine because of claims that is causes autism, but no studies have proven this to be the case.

Look at what could happen to you or your child if you caught measles! The dangers of not having the vaccine and being at risk of catching measles are far greater than the so-called risk of the vaccine itself.

My own children were vaccinated with no apparent ill effect.

Adults who are uncertain of whether they received a vaccine or not are advised to get a single shot of the MMR vaccine as a precaution.

Learning what to look out for - the signs and symptoms of measles - can help you as a parent cope with whatever lies ahead.

If your child shows some of the symptoms above, and they haven't been vaccinated, then ask your doctor to carry out tests or refer your child to someplace where those tests can be carried out.

Measles is a nasty disease. Be prepared. Learn the signs of measles to look out for.


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