Understanding Measles: Symptoms, Complications, and Prevention Strategies

Measles, a viral illness caused by the rubeola virus, spreads through direct contact with an infected individual or through airborne droplets. It is highly contagious and can lead to severe complications, including fatality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 20% of individuals in the United States who contract measles require hospitalization, with a fatality rate ranging from 1 to 3 per 1,000 cases.

Vaccination provides effective protection against measles, though some individuals, due to health conditions, may not be eligible for vaccination. However, if 93–95% of the population is vaccinated, the risk of measles transmission to susceptible individuals decreases significantly.

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that over 140,000 deaths occurred due to measles, with the majority of fatalities involving children under 5 years of age. Despite this, effective vaccination programs have resulted in a 73% reduction in measles-related deaths since 2000.

Symptoms of measles typically manifest 7–14 days after exposure, though onset may occur up to 23 days later. Common symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, sneezing, body aches, mouth white spots, and a characteristic red rash that begins around 3–5 days after symptom onset.

Complications of measles can be severe and may include vision loss, encephalitis (brain swelling), severe diarrhea and dehydration, pneumonia, and additional infections. Pregnant individuals may experience pregnancy loss, preterm birth, or low birth weight due to measles infection.

Measles is transmitted when an infected individual releases respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing. The virus remains active in the air for up to 2 hours and can infect up to 90% of susceptible individuals in close proximity.

Seek medical attention if symptoms suggestive of measles occur, if fever exceeds 100.4°F (38°C), if chest pain or breathing difficulty develops, if coughing up blood occurs, or if signs of confusion, drowsiness, or convulsions are observed.

Treatment for measles primarily involves supportive care, with symptoms typically resolving within 7 to 10 days. Hospitalization may be necessary in cases of complications. Pain relievers, fluids to prevent dehydration, and vitamin A supplementation may be recommended.

Preventative measures include vaccination with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, typically administered in two doses during childhood. Immunity following measles infection usually provides lifelong protection. However, individuals unsure of their immunity status should consult a healthcare provider for guidance on vaccination.

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