As a medical student on a GP placement I saw a suspected case of measles, which was later confirmed. I remember being told at the time that I may never see another case of measles and excitedly telling my fellow medical students that I had seen this unusual disease! Unfortunately over the last few years I am seeing more and more cases of measles and some of the children affected have been some of the sickest patients I have cared for.
Measles is caused by a virus and it is one of the most infectious illnesses around, meaning it easily spreads from person to person. It generally develops about 10 days after being in contact with an affected person. Children under 5 tend to be most severely affected and children under 1 most at risk as the routine immunisation is scheduled and most effective from 12 months. Pregnant women and people with problems with their immune system such as those being treated for cancer are also at very high risk from measles.
Cold like symptoms such as runny nose and cough
Sore red eyes which may be sensitive to light
White spots on the inside of cheeks (Koplik’s spots)
Widespread red/brown rash which starts on head and spreads to rest of body
Most children recover with no long term effects although they look and feel awful. Unfortunately some children are more severely affected and measles can be fatal or can leave children with long term disabilities. Complications include pneumonia, deafness, seizures and brain damage. A rare side effect is progressive brain damage that occurs a few years after infection due to reactivation of the virus which is terminal.
There is a safe and effective immunisation against measles in the form of MMR (measles, mumps and Rubella) vaccine. It is given age 12months with boosters generally at age 3, however in areas where there are lots of cases then this may be brought forward to as early as 15 months. There have been some scare stories over the last couple of decades that the MMR vaccine could be associated with increased risk of autism or bowel problems. There is NO evidence that this is the case and the main doctor who published the information has been discredited and struck off the medical register, meaning they are no longer allowed to work as a doctor in the UK. MMR is safe and generally well tolerated. We would urge you to please immunise your children to keep them safe.