Also known as rubeola (and not be confused with rubella or German measles!), measles is a highly infectious, viral illness that causes a fever and skin rash. Caused by the Morbillivirus, measles is easily prevented by having immunisations at 12, 18 months and four years of age1, however if left untreated — especially in young children — it can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, brain-swelling and death in the most serious cases.
And given the recent measles outbreak in Sydney — in which 23 under-vaccinated people aged between 20 and 50 caught the virus — health and government bodies are urging everyone to protect themselves, and be aware of the virus and its symptoms. Here’s what you should know.
Symptoms to look out for
First, it’s important to know how measles is contracted, and the symptoms to watch out for. Measles is highly contagious and is most commonly transmitted through coughing or sneezing. Symptoms typically last 10-14 days, and include fever, tiredness, coughing and/or a running nose, sore or red eyes, and a rash which usually starts on the face and neck, then spreads down the body. Around one third of sufferers can also develop complications from measles, including ear infections, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, respiratory infections such as laryngitis, bronchitis or croup, and pneumonia.
While anyone can catch the virus, children under five, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions are considered to be at a higher risk of suffering from more serious complications. About one in every 1,000 cases will develop brain-swelling (encephalitis), and pregnant women may miscarry or go into labour prematurely.
If you or someone you know — especially if they are children under five, unimmunised or pregnant — begin to show symptoms, speak to your GP immediately. Your GP will be able to recommend the best treatment for you or your child.
Measles is a viral illness, which means it cannot be treated using antibiotics. In light of this, the recommended treatment options are generally:
- Get lots of bed rest
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
- Use paracetamol to reduce fevers or pain
- Note, isolation is required given measles is a highly contagious disease
The best way to protect you and your family is to get the measles vaccination. It is free and available nationwide on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule. Despite this, measles remains one of the leading causes of death amongst young children. For more information on the vaccine, see here.
1. While the immunisation at 12 and 18 months is measles-specific, at four years of age children will still require another vaccine that protects against measles and other serious infections including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio.