Measles in Children
Before the vaccine became available, this disease killed millions of children around the world every year. Measles is a viral disease that lasts only a few days but leaves the surviving children weakened for months afterwards. We do not yet have an effective drug against this viral disease.
Measles is a highly infectious disease, and is spread from person to person, through the air. The disease appears 1-2 weeks after exposure. Children with measles are infectious to others from the beginning of the illness to 3-4 days after the rash appears.
The disease starts with fever, cough, and sticky eyes. The fever can be very high. The child has a sore mouth, making eating difficult. Diarrhoea usually occurs, and can be severe. The typical rash appears after 2-3 days of fever.
The rash is red, and flat to slightly raised. It always appears first on the head and neck, and progresses down the body in orderly fashion, taking about two or three days to reach the feet. It fades in the same sequence. The fever is very high before the rash appears, and often drops abruptly after the rash has reached the feet.
Measles is a viral disease and we do not have a treatment for it. The acute attack is treated with rest and fever medicines. Since the appetite is reduced, a lot of liquids must be offered to the child at small intervals. Cough syrups do not usually help much.
A delayed complication is Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), which affects the brain several years after the original measles attack. Though a rare complication, it is much feared because of its incurable nature. It is relentlessly progressive and invariably fatal.
SSPE usually first manifests itself as a deterioration in school performance. The child has changes in behaviour, becomes lethargic, and loses interest in activities. Frank seizures are uncommon, but most affected children go through a stage when they have myoclonic jerks affecting the whole body. As the disease progresses, these children become comatose, and may develop rigidity of the body. The course of the disease may be as short as a few months, to as long as ten years.
Measles can be prevented by the use of the measles vaccine. At least one dose should be given to every child.
See also: The Measles Vaccine
Last Revision: May 30, 2014