The measles is a virus that you have probably heard the name of but do you know exactly what it is?

This blog is written by Dr Linny Kimly Phuong. Dr Linny is a paediatric infectious diseases physician and researcher. She is passionate about communication of accurate and timely health information to communities, and contributes her skills and knowledge in a variety of forums. She is also the proud mummy to a 4-year-old daughter.

The measles is a virus that you have probably heard the name of but do you know exactly what it is? Here is the measles run down: 

Why do we worry? Why is it an issue?
Measles is a highly contagious virus where 1 infected individual can infect nine out of 10 of their unvaccinated close contacts. In 2014 the World Health Organization declared Australia as ‘Measles free’ BUT outbreaks still occur due to some of the following reasons: 

  • With return to travel, we are continuing to see travelers bringing back infection from overseas
  • Global vaccination rates have decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Outbreaks are an issue with a susceptible (non-protected) population

It is also important to note that not everyone can be vaccinated, due to medical conditions including immunocompromise. 

How is it spread? 
Measles is spread by droplets or aerosols meaning infected individuals can pass on the virus through breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Infected individuals can spread infection with droplets in the air; an active virus can infect others through the air and via contaminated surfaces (think door handles, infected table surfaces).

How long are you infected for?
The incubation period is 10-14 days. People are infectious before the rash appears, which can be up to 4 days beforehand. 

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, and rash. An easy way to remember it is by identifying the 4 C’s of measles:

Cough (dry)
Conjunctivitis
Coryza (runny nose)
(K)oplik spots

What are the complications of measles?
Some complications for measles include the following: 

  • Meningitis and/or encephalitis (inflammation of the lining of
    the brain) leading to permanent disability or death
  • Can lead to secondary infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Gastro symptoms - vomiting, diarrhoea
  • During pregnancy - miscarriage, preterm labour

How is it diagnosed? 
Measles are diagnosed using a PCR swab of the throat. A series of blood tests can also be done to prove an antibody rise (a response to the measles virus).  

How can you Prevent measles? 
Measles vaccination which is often given as MMR or MMR-V. One dose is 95% protective, while two doses are 99% protective. In Australia the first dose is given at 12 months, and the second dose at 18 months. However you can receive the vaccine earlier if you’re travelling, from 6 months of age (note MMR/MMR-V should not be given during pregnancy). 

Treatment:
Supportive treatment and post-exposure prophylaxis (immunoglobulin injection) is
available for those at high risk of complications.

As always, information on this website is for educational purposes only. Please consult your GP for information specific to your child.

References: 
1. World Health Organisation - http://who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles#
2. RCH Kids Info Measles - http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Measles/
3. Health Direct - http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/measles 
4. NCIRS - http://www.ncirs.org.au/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs/measles-vaccines-for-Australians


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