Measles is not something that concerns lots of UK parents as most children (92%) are given the MMR jab as part of routine childhood vaccinations.
However figures released in 2015 showed a drop in take-up of MMR jabs for the first time in seven years, with approximately 24,000 not being taken for their immunisation every year.
In addition, in November 2013, a serious outbreak in Swansea saw 1,200 cases, proving measles is still something all parents should be aware of.
What Is Measles?
The NHS defines measles as a highly contagious viral infection that appears as a rash with cold-like symptoms.
Dr Nitin Shori, GP and Medical Director of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service said: “Measles is a highly infectious disease and can lead to serious complications, so it pays to take any steps possible to guard against you or a loved one catching it.”
The NHS acknowledges measles is now more uncommon in the UK because of the widespread effectiveness of the MMR vaccination, but it is important to remember not all children are immunised.
How Does My Child Catch Measles?
Doctor Shori says: “Like flu, the measles virus is spread in the tiny droplets of mucus, which become airborne when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”
You can easily catch measles by breathing in these droplets or by touching a contaminated surface (they can survive for several hours out of the body).
What Are The Symptoms Of Measles?
The NHS lists the most common symptoms of measles as:
Fever (that can reach more than 40 degrees).
Diarrhoea and sickness.
Sore red eyes that might be sensitive to light.
Cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose and headache.
After these initial symptoms appear, several days later you will see a red-brown blotchy rash that spreads all over the body, but normally starts on the head or upper neck.
What Is A Koplik Spot?
Koplik (or Coplik) are an indicator of measles virus, two to three days before other symptoms appear.
They are small white spots that appear on the inside of the mouth and often fade as the rash starts to appear. They are important in diagnosing measles and often helpful in containing the virus before it becomes it’s most contagious.
Not everyone gets these spots.
How Is Measles Diagnosed?
Symptoms usually appear 10-12 days after exposure to an infected person.
As soon as you suspect your child might have measles you need to get in contact with your GP for a diagnosis.
It is best to phone rather than take your child into the surgery as they might need to make alternative arrangements to stop further infection.
How Is Measles Treated?
For most people measles is not dangerous, but just an irritation and the NHS says that the infection normally clears in seven to ten days.
There are only a small handful of cases where this develops into a bigger problem: “More serious complications can include pneumonia or bronchitis, permanent eye diseases and even a potentially fatal brain disorder,” explains Doctor Shori.
If you are treating your child at home, the NHS recommends:
- Give them paracetamol (Calpol) – remember aspirin should not be given to under 16’s and over the counter medicines not to the under 6’s.
Give them plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Close the curtains to reduce light sensitivity.
Use damp cotton wool to clean the face and reduce temperature.
When Does My Child Have The MMR Vaccine?
The NHS provides the MMR jab for free to all children as part of their routine immunisation program.
The first time is at 12-13 months old, and the second time is before they start primary school at three or four years old.
Public Health England urges all parents to get their child vaccinated.
Do I Need The MMR Vaccine If I Am Pregnant?
If you are trying to get pregnant you should check that you have had your routine MMR jabs and are up-to-date.
Should I Get The MMR As An Adult If I Haven’t Had It?
Doctor Shori says: “It is not too late to protect yourself against the measles virus if you missed out on vaccination as a child. People of any age can seek a vaccination against measles and should speak to their GP if they are concerned that they might not have protection against the disease.”
In August 2016, Public Health England issued a warning to adult festival goers in the UK about checking on their MMR immunisation history before attending large events, as 234 cases were reported between January and June this year.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England, said: “Young people who missed their MMR jab as children are vulnerable, especially if gathered in large numbers at an event.”