Diseases and what they mean

What is measles?
What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. In 2001 it was estimated that there were 30 million measles cases and 745 000 measles-related deaths. Measles kills more children than any other vaccine preventable disease.

Because the disease is so infectious, it tends to occur as epidemics, which may cause many deaths especially among malnourished children.

How is measles spread?
Measles is spread through contact with nose and throat secretions of infected people and in airborne droplets released when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

A person with measles can infect others for several days before and after he or she develops symptoms. The disease spreads easily in areas where infants and children gather, for example in health centers and schools.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?
The first sign of infection is a high fever which begins approximately 10-12 days after exposure and lasts several days. During this period, the patient may develop a runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside his or her cheeks.

After several days, a slightly raised rash develops, usually on the face and upper neck. Over a period of about three days, the rash spreads to the body and then to the hands and feet. It lasts for five or six days and then fades. The incubation period from exposure to the onset of the rash averages 14 days, with a range of seven to 18 days.

What are the complications of measles?
Unimmunized children under five years of age, and especially infants, are at highest risk for measles and its complications, including death. Infected infants may suffer from severe diarrhoea, possibly causing dehydration. Children may also develop inflammation of the middle ear and severe respiratory tract infections.

Pneumonia is the most common cause of death associated with measles. This is usually because the measles virus weakens the immune system. The pneumonia may be caused by the measles virus itself or by secondary bacterial infection. Encephalitis, a dangerous inflammation of the brain, may also develop.

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