Measles is a highly infectious viral disease. If affects children from a young age as the immunity abstained from the mother wears off during the first years of life. The incubation period is about two weeks and the disease is spread by droplet infection. The illness will usually take about a week to resolve but the child should be isolated from school for ten days after the onset of the rash.
Symptoms and complications
Measles usually starts with a severe cold, nasal catarrh, cough and sore red eyes. The child may be feverish and frequently vomits. On the third to fifth day he will develop a characteristic non-itchy rash which starts behind the ears and gradually spreads over his face and body. It consists of small red spots which gradually come together and give a blotchy appearance.
The most common complications are ear infections and bronchitis. These can be quite severe in very young children.
Treatment should be related to the different symptoms. The child frequently loses his appetite when the symptoms are most acute and should not be forced to eat. Adequate fluids should be provided and special attention given to keeping the mouth moist and comfortable.
It used to be considered advisable to keep the child in a darkened room but this is unnecessary unless the light is found to be irritating. If the eyes are inflamed they should bathed in warm salt water or Optrex. Watching television should be discouraged as this can often cause discomfort.
If there is any evidence of secondary infection such as acute earache or bronchitis, treatment with the appropriate antibiotic may be indicated.
A vaccine is now available and, in view of the possible complications of the disease, it is advisable for all children to be immunized when they are one year old.