Measles Signs and Symptoms

Measles Symptoms

What is ?

Measles is a highly contagious viral respiratory disease. It is one of the most infectious diseases with at least a 90% secondary infection rate in susceptible people. It is an unpleasant disease with numerous symptoms similar to that of flu or colds. Although, despite the high rates of full patient recovery, measles can sometimes lead to serious complications and become fatal if they are not addressed early on.

Measles may occur in any nonimmune person, both children and adults. Children are the most at risk, especially if they have not been vaccinated against the disease.  The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) is the vaccine that can prevent anyone from contracting measles.

Infected people carry the virus in their respiratory tract before getting sick. Thus, they become carriers without being aware that they are already spreading the disease. It takes an average of 7–14 days from exposure to the measles virus until the appearance of the first symptom.   

Antibiotics are of no use against the measles virus, but they may sometimes be prescribed by doctors if an additional bacterial infection develops.

If there are no complications, measles generally runs its course within 7 to 10 days.  After getting better from the disease, a person forms a natural immunity against it and has a very high chance of not getting it again.

Types of measles:

There are two types of measles and both are caused by different viruses.

  • Red measles or Measles- This is the most common form. It is caused by the rubeola virus. While most of those infected do recover without problems, untreated complications can lead to serious and sometimes fatal results.
  • German measles – It is caused by the rubella virus. This type is usually milder than the red measles. It is also known as the 3-day measles.  Although milder, this type of measles presents a great risk for unborn babies. It can cause birth defects if the mother gets infected with the virus during pregnancy. 

How does it spread?

The measles virus multiplies in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult. When someone infected with measles sneezes, coughs or speaks, infected droplets spray into the air where other people may inhale them. 

Measles can also spread when people touch surfaces where the droplets have settled. The virus gets transferred via hand to mouth or nose.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the measles virus can live for up to two hours in that airspace or nearby surfaces.

10 Signs and Symptoms:

The following are the signs and symptoms that a person has caught measles.

1. High fever

A high fever is usually the first sign that a person may have measles. This symptom may appear 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. It typically lasts for 4 to 7 days. The fever is often greater than 40 °C (104 °F).

The fever becomes present as the body tries to fight off infection caused by the measles virus. The elevated body temperature makes it harder for the virus to survive. Fever jumpstarts the immune system to start doing its job and combat the infection.

People infected with measles often experience mild to moderate fevers that can be treated by fever medication, lots of fluids and rest. Aspirin should not be given to affected children 16 years old and below. Doctors should be consulted first before administering over the counter fever medications to get the correct dosage. Too much could cause liver damage and other health-related complications in younger patients.

2. Runny nose or congestion

The measles virus enters the body and quickly multiplies at the back of the throat, lungs and lymphatic systems. The virus causes irritation and inflammation in the mucous membranes found in the nose. The medical term for this is called coryza.

Mucus found in the nose and throat serves as a filter for bacteria, germs, and other debris. It prevents these things from getting into the lungs. An excess in the mucus production arises when there is an infection in the mucous membranes. This is called nasal discharge.

While the body could typically recover on its own, using a humidifier to help decongest mucus and drinking lots of fluids plus getting plenty of rest may help ease the discomfort. If they become severe, a doctor may prescribe additional medication or treatment.

3. Dry, hacking cough

Coughing is the body’s way of clearing the throat from mucus or other foreign irritants.

When the measles virus enters the body, it affects the respiratory tract first. It infects the throat which can cause fits of coughing in an infected person. Nasal discharge or postnasal drip exacerbates this condition as well.

Cough medicines will not help relieve measles cough.

But there are several ways to make a sick person feel comfortable. One, drinking warm drinks, particularly ones containing lemon or honey, may also help to relax the airways, loosen mucus, and soothe a cough. Honey should not be given, though, to babies under 12 months.

Another is to stay in a hot and steamy bathroom or put a wet towel on a warm radiator to moisten the air or use a humidifier in the room.

4. Sore and red eyes

This symptom develops early on in the disease along with fever, cough, and a runny nose. The measles virus can affect the eyes in several ways. Measles often affect the eyes although not seriously but it may lead to loss of sight if complications arise.

Conjunctivitis happens when the measles virus gets to the conjunctiva of the eyes and it becomes inflamed. The conjunctiva is a thin layer of membrane found in the inner surface of the eyelids. Symptoms include watery eyes (sticky eyes), redness and soreness. It is a hallmark symptom of measles and usually subsides on its own as the disease runs its course.

Measles virus in the cornea (keratitis) has more severe symptoms and far more dangerous consequences. The cornea is a circle of transparent tissue found at the front of each eye. Symptoms may include pain, redness, and in worse cases tearing. Often treated with medicated drops and keratitis would usually heal by itself without complications after 4 to 5 days. Keratitis will cause temporary blurred vision, but if it leads to scarring the loss of vision can be permanent.

For mild cases, the eyes can be cleaned using a clean cloth soaked in water to remove any crustiness from the eyelids or lashes. If the sticky pus around the eyes turns green or dark yellow/cream, it would be best to see a doctor.

5. Body aches

Body pains are commonly felt in the neck, back arms, and legs. It is one of the first symptoms to appear accompanied by fever, cough and a runny nose.

When an infection occurs, the body’s immune system sends white blood cells and other chemicals to fight off the infection. One of the chemicals produced by your immune system is called prostaglandin.

Muscle aches and pains are the results of the immune system fighting hard against the illness. Although it’s no fun for a person sick with measles, body pain is actually a good sign that the body is doing what it is supposed to do to help fight off the disease.

6. Tiredness and Irritability

People experience tiredness or lack of energy a few days before the classic signs and symptoms develop.

Tiredness is often present with measles, and with other illnesses because the body is expending most of its energy fighting off the infection. When the body is fighting off foreign invaders, it needs as much energy as possible. Measles and its accompanying symptoms put the body’s cells under a lot of stress. Fatigue or tiredness ensues to make the body experience lethargy or sleepiness to promote sleep and speed up recovery.

Another side effect of getting sick with the measles is becoming irritable or cranky. Scientists call this “sickness behavior” and say that it actually helps the body heal. Researchers believe that behavior seen on sick people helps the immune system refocus so that the body only expends energy to fight off the infection.

7. Loss of appetite

Loss of appetite is another common sign of measles. It is also a well-documented symptom of a number of illnesses.

Fighting off infections of any kind, like a measles infection, can be a complex process. During an infection, two things can cause damage to the body. The first is direct damage caused by the pathogen. The second is collateral damage caused by the immune response.

Once an infection sets in, the body’s complex immune response causes a chemical called cytokines to be produced. This chemical has a wide range of effects in the body and one of which is the decrease in appetite.

And since the body needs a lot of energy to help heal itself, it lowers the drive to eat to free up energy that can be diverted to fighting off the infection. Digestion uses up energy and if there is not much food to process, energy is then saved and the body uses it.

8. Photophobia or sensitivity to light

The Measles virus can cause inflammation of the cornea which becomes hazy and discolored in appearance. This makes the eyes painful, red, tear up and sensitive to light, also known as photophobia. It can also feel as if there are foreign bodies lodged in the eyes.

In addition, the measles virus can also cause inflammation in almost any part of the back of the eye including the retina, blood vessels, and optic nerve. Patients may lose vision due to swelling or scarring of the retina. The retina is the light-sensing part of the eye.

People with measles are advised to seek immediate medical attention if eye complications arise due the measles. Children are most susceptible to permanent eye damage and even blindness if the eye complications are left untreated.

9. Koplik spots

Koplik spots are small and grayish-white spots in their mouths, inside of the cheeks and throat. They look like tiny grains of sand surrounded by red rings. Seen only on measles they are, by themselves, a diagnostic sign in measles.

These oral lesions are pathognomonic (a characteristic sign) of measles which occur 2 or 3 days from the beginning of the first symptoms of the disease. It is seen in 50-70% of patients with confirmed measles. Evidence of kolpik spots should prompt isolation of the patient for quick measles management and control measures.

The presence of Koplik spots lasts between 24 and 48 hours, after which the rashes typical of measles occur.

10. Reddish-brown rash

The measles rash appears around 2 to 4 days after the initial symptoms appear and they usually fade after a week or so. It usually starts at the back of the ears and spreads to the face, the body then the arms and legs. The rash may or not be itchy.

On the first day or two after the spots appear, a person with measles may mostly feel worse than they did with the initial symptoms.

The rashes are made up of small red-brown, flat or slightly raised spots that can join together to form bigger blotchy patches. Over the next few days, it will soon cover a major portion of the body. In addition to that, fever may rise sharply as high as 104 to 105.8 F (40 to 41 C).

Cure and Treatment:

There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles but there are home remedies and medications that can be prescribed by doctors. These medicines help lessen discomfort during the illness or fight off any complications due to measles. If there are no complications, patients are advised to rest and drink lots of fluids.

Since measles is a very contagious disease, it is best to have those sick to avoid close contact with others, especially those who are not immunized or never had measles. Anyone who thinks that their immune system is compromised and at risk of getting the disease should seek medical advice from their doctors.