This article will explore Measles as a disease, the causes, how it is transmitted, its signs and symptoms , the people at risk of contracting measles, its prevention and its treatment.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus called Morbillivirus that mostly affects the respiratory system. It easily spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes out infected air that is then breathed in by a healthy individual. Measles can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

Once contracted, measles can lead to severe disease, other complications and even death. Measles can affect anyone, but it is common in children. Getting the measles vaccine is the most effective way of preventing a measles infection and its spread.

How is measles spread?

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world. The virus remains active and infectious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours after the infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. When a healthy person breathes in the particles from an infected person, they can get the measles virus and then start showing symptoms of infection. It’s important to note that 1 infected person can infect at least 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people.

What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

Signs and symptoms of measles usually start showing 10-14 days after exposure to the virus. A prominent rash is usually the most visible symptom of measles. Early symptoms usually last 4–7 days. They include:

  • Running nose
  • Cough
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Small white spots inside the cheeks

About 7-18 days after getting infected, you can start to see the rash. usually on the face and upper neck where it spreads over 3 days, eventually to the hands and feet. It can last 5-6 days before fading One might also start experiencing sore throat, white spots in the mouth, pain in the muscles and become more sensitive to light.

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A child with rashes from measles. Image courtesy of WHO.

Measles complications can lead to death. Some of these complications include:

  • Blindness
  • Encephalitis (an infection causing brain swelling and potential brain damage)
  • Severe diarrhoea and related dehydration (depletion of water in the body)
  • Ear infection
  • Severe breathing problems including pneumonia

These complications are mostly common in:

  • Pregnant women; If a pregnant woman catches measles during her pregnancy, it can be dangerous for her and can sometimes result in her baby being born prematurely with a low birth weight.
  • Children under 5 years; Mostly in children with weak immune system, for example those who are malnourished, those without enough vitamin A or those with HIV or other diseases. Measles also weakens the immune system leaving the body an easy target for other infections.
  • Adults over age 30; While adults are not at more risk of measles, they are likely to get more serious complications if they get measles infection.

Who is at most risk of contracting measles?

  • Persons without immunity, these include those not vaccinated and people who did not develop immunity after vaccination.
  • Young children who are not vaccinated and those with malnutrition or weak immune systems.
  • Pregnant women and they are at the highest risk of severe measles complications if infected.


Is measles treatable?

There is no specific treatment for measles. Treatment usually focuses on relieving symptoms, making the person comfortable and preventing complications. It’s advised to eat a healthy diet and drink enough water to replace fluids lost to diarrhoea, vomiting or sweating due to fever

How can you prevent measles?

Vaccination is the most effective way of preventing measles. All children should be vaccinated against it.

Where can I get a vaccination for measles?

In Kenya, the Measles Rubella (MR) vaccine is offered as part of the routine childhood immunization program. The first dose is given when the child is 9 months and the second dose is given at 18 months. This vaccine is offered for free at all government health facilities countrywide.

You can get the vaccine at the IRC main Hospital, and Health posts E6 and L6 in Hagadera, and all IRC facilities in Kakuma.


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