Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications. It's now uncommon in the UK because of the effectiveness of vaccination. Anyone can get measles if they haven't been vaccinated or they haven't had it before, although it's most common in young children. The infection usually clears in around 7 to 10 days.
Symptoms of measles
The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after you're infected. These can include:
Cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
Sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
A high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
Small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks
A few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear. This usually starts on the head or upper neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body.
Is measles serious?
Measles can be unpleasant, but will usually pass in about 7 to 10 days without causing any further problems. Once you've had measles, your body builds up resistance (immunity) to the virus and it's highly unlikely you'll get it again. However, measles can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications in some people. These include infections of the lungs (pneumonia) and brain (encephalitis).
When to see your GP
You should contact your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child may have measles. It's best to phone before your visit as your GP surgery may need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others. You should also see your GP if you've been in close contact with someone who has measles and you've not been fully vaccinated or haven't had the infection before – even if you don't have any symptoms.
There are several things you can do to help relieve your symptoms and reduce the risk of spreading the infection, including:
Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever, aches and pains – aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old
Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
Closing the curtains to help reduce light sensitivity
Using damp cotton wool to clean the eyes
Staying off school or work for at least four days from when the rash first appears
In severe cases, especially if there are complications, you or your child may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.
Image: CC0 Creative Commons by Pixabay