How to Prevent Measles and its Complications


What is Measles?


Measles is a childhood infection caused by a virus. Once quite common, measles can now almost always be prevented with a vaccine. Signs and symptoms of measles include cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, sore throat, fever and a red, blotchy skin rash.

It is also called rubeola, measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. While death rates have been falling worldwide as more children receive the vaccine, the disease still kills more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of 5.


Measles signs and symptoms appear 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Signs and symptoms of measles typically include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek — also called Koplik’s spots
  • A skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that often flow into one another

The infection occurs in sequential stages over a period of two to three weeks.

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  • Infection and incubation. For the first 10 to 14 days after you’re infected, the measles virus incubates. You have no signs or symptoms of measles during this time.
  • Nonspecific signs and symptoms. Measles typically begins with a mild to moderate fever, often accompanied by a persistent cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis) and sore throat. This relatively mild illness may last two or three days.
  • Acute illness and rash. The rash consists of small red spots, some of which are slightly raised. Spots and bumps in tight clusters give the skin a splotchy red appearance. The face breaks out first, particularly behind the ears and along the hairline.

Over the next few days, the rash spreads down the arms and trunk, then over the thighs, lower legs and feet. At the same time, fever rises sharply, often as high as 104 to 105.8 F (40 to 41 C). The measles rash gradually recedes, fading first from the face and last from the thighs and feet.

  • Communicable period. A person with measles can spread the virus to others for about eight days, starting four days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been resent for four days.measles


The cause of measles is a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult.

When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where other people can inhale them. The infected droplets may also land on a surface, where they remain active and contagious for several hours.

You can contract the virus by putting your fingers in your mouth or nose or rubbing your eyes after touching the infected surface.

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Risk factors for measles include:

  • Being un-vaccinated. If you haven’t received the vaccine for measles, you’re much more likely to develop the disease.
  • Traveling internationally. If you travel to developing countries, where measles is more common, you’re at higher risk of catching the disease.
  • Having a vitamin A deficiency. If you don’t have enough vitamin A in your diet, you’re more likely to contract measles and to have more-severe symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you think you or your child may have been exposed to measles or if you or your child has a rash resembling measles. Review your family’s immunization records with your doctor, especially before starting elementary school, before college and before international travel.

The Complications

There are many complications that can develop due to measles, although some are much rarer than others. And it will be of no benefit, if we mention the complications alone, without itemizing ways of preventing the disease itself

Complications resulting from measles are more likely to develop in certain children, including:

  • children with a weakened immune system, such as those with leukaemia or AIDS
  • children with a poor diet
  • children under the age of five

Complications are also more likely to develop in adults who are over the age of 20.

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Common complications

Some of the common complications of measles are:

  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • eye infection (conjunctivitis)
  • inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis)

Inner ear infection and inflammation (otitis media), which often causes earache, may also be a complication of measles.

Fits that are caused by a fever (febrile seizures) are also possible complications of measles. However, the fits, although alarming, are not usually dangerous.

Less common complications

Less common complications of measles are:

  • meningitis
  • pneumonia (lung infection), signs of which are fast, difficult breathing, chest pain and deteriorating condition
  • hepatitis (liver infection)
  • encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which can be fatal, so watch for drowsiness, headache and vomiting
  • low platelet count, known medically as thrombocytopenia, which affects the blood’s ability to clot
  • bronchitis and croup (infection of the airways), characterized by a hacking or barking cough
  • squint, if the virus affects the nerves and muscles of the eye

Rare complications

In rare cases, measles can lead to the following conditions:

  • serious eye disorders, such as an infection of the optic nerve (the nerve that transmits information from the eye to the brain), known as optic neuritis, which can lead to blindness
  • heart and nervous system problems
  • a serious brain complication known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), which can sometimes occur several years after measles – however, although the condition is fatal, it is very rare, occurring in only 1 in every 100,000 cases of measles


measles-stopThe best bet in preventing measles is by vaccination.

However, if you think that your child or someone in your household has it, take these precautions to protect vulnerable family and friends:

  • Isolation: Because it is highly contagious from about four days before to four days after the rash breaks out, people with measles should not return to activities in which they interact with other people during this period. It may also be necessary to keep non-immunized people away from the infected person.
  • Vaccinate: Be sure that anyone who is at risk of getting it who hasn’t been fully vaccinated receives the vaccine as soon as possible.
  • Preventing new infections: If you’ve already had measles, your body has built up its immune system to fight the infection, and you can’t get it again. Most people born or living in the United States before 1957 are immune to measles, simply because they’ve already had it.
  • For everyone else, there is the vaccine for you out there. Go for it and save somebody.

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