Risks at a glance:
- Ear infections that can result in permanent hearing loss
- Diarrhoea leading to dehydration
- Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) which can lead to death
- Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) which can lead to convulsions, permanent brain damage, or death
- Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare but always fatal disease of the central nervous system that results from having a measles infection earlier in life. SSPE generally develops 7 to 10 years after a person has measles, even though the person seems to have fully recovered from it
- Death, for every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it
People with measles experience tiredness and can be sensitive to light. They have high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis), and tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth. The rash begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, body, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 40⁰ Celsius or 104° Fahrenheit.
How is it spread?
Measles is one of the most contagious illnesses ever known. People with measles can spread it to others from four days before the rash appears through to four days after it appears.
Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing and the measles virus can live for up to two hours in the air where the infected person coughed or sneezed, so if other people breathe the contaminated air or touch a contaminated surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.
Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.
There is no cure for measles, but antibiotics can be used for secondary infections like pneumonia.
Impact of measles:
Measles is a serious health risk, mostly in countries and areas with low immunisation rates. Between 2000 and 2018 measles vaccination prevented 23.2 million measles deaths.
Global measles deaths over the last few years:
2016 – 89,780 lives lost to measles
2017 – 110,000 lives lost to measles
2018 – 142,000 lives lost to measles
In 2019, there has been several deadly outbreaks of measles. More than 5,000 people, mostly children, have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in what is currently the world’s biggest measles epidemic.
Samoa has experienced a devastating outbreak of measles with over 5000 cases of measles and 72 deaths so far in as of 15th December 2019.
An ongoing outbreak in Madagascar has seen 115,000 cases and over 1,200 deaths from measles by April 2019. The outbreak is still going because Madagascar has very low immunisation rates due to poverty and poor health infastructure.
An early 2018 outbreak in Europe due to pockets of low vaccination resulted in 8,207 cases of measles reported in May 2018 alone – taking the year’s total for January to May to more than 41,000, including 37 deaths.
One dose of the measles containing vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella or Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella) is 93% effective at preventing measles. Two doses are 97% effective at preventing measles.
Real life measles stories:
Cecily lost her daughter Laine at the age of 12 from subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE, a disease resulting from a measles infection she had as a baby. Laine became infected with measles at 10.5 months old. She was too young to be vaccinated for measles. You can watch their story here.
Sarah contracted measles at age 5 and ended up in a coma. She was left with brain damage and lasting disabilities including deafness, partial sight and learning difficulties. You can watch her story here.
Baby Alba caught measles in her community before she was old enough to be vaccinated. Alba has endured a long hospital stay and measles has caused her eyes to be swollen shut for 4 days. She has been kept in the dark (to protect her eyes), she is scared, has had a high fever that lasted for over two weeks, is being tube fed, is on a drip, oxygen, and lots of different medications. With permission from her mum, Jilly, Alba’s pictures are below.