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Measles. What is it? Why should I vaccinate?

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

What You Should Know About Measles

About Measles
About Measles

What is measles?

Measles is an extremely infective respiratory virus, which is spread through the droplets produced when an infected person coughs and sneezes. As measles is a viral infection, antibiotics will not be able to help you.


Once infected with the measles virus and after an incubation period of 11 to 12 days, you can expect the following symptoms to appear:

- Runny nose

- Sneezing

- Coughing

- Sore red eyes (viral conjunctivitis)

- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)

- Fever, possibly as high as 40C

Two to three days after the onset of the flu like symptoms above, tiny white spots develop inside the mouth, then between three to five days later, a reddish brown rash will appear. This classic measles rash usually starts at the head/hair line, before spreading down the entire body. These spots may merge together and later peel off in scales. It is also quite possible to develop an ear infection (especially in small children) and diarrhoea.

About Measles

About Measles
About Measles


Treatment options are limited, and in people with no complications, it is symptom control only.

- Take paracetamol and/or ibuprofen for the fever and body aches

- Drink plenty of fluids

- Clean symptoms of viral conjunctivitis with cooled boiled water and cotton wool

- Close the curtains and dim lights if suffering from photophobia

- Treat cold like symptoms. This post can show you how.

- See this post for advice on soothing irritating rashes

A measles rash may blanch initially but no longer blanch after a day or two. Accompanied by the fever and photophobia, it may be harder to distinguish between measles and meningitis (plus measles can cause meningitis also) If any concerns seek further medical help.

If you or a child develop any of these symptoms, seek further medical advice

- Shortness of breath

- Chest pain

- Bringing up blood when you cough

- Drowsiness

- Seizures

- Confusion

- Reduced urine output

Severe Complications

Unfortunately some people develop severe complications to measles - otherwise we would allow it to run its course in a similar fashion to chicken pox. Children under 5, adults over 20, pregnant women and people with lowered immune symptoms (patients having chemotherapy, HIV sufferers and people with leukaemia) are the most at risk.

These people are more likely to develop further complications such as pneumonia, or encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and will require hospital treatment. The CDC reports 1 in 20 children contracts pneumonia which is the leading cause of death from measles. Furthermore, 1 in 1000 children develop encephalitis which can cause seizures, leaving the child deaf or with intellectual disabilities. 1 to 2 children of every 1000 who catch measles will die.

For pregnant women who contract the virus, they are at risk of premature birth or giving birth to a child with a very low birth-weight.

Measles can cause a suppression of the immune system, meaning complications can be vast from appendicitis, to hepatitis. Another serious complication can be SSPE (subacute sclerosis panenecephalitis) which is a neurological disorder causing permanent and worsening nervous system damage leading to a vegetative state.

But thankfully, for most people, although measles is quite unpleasant it will usually resolve within 7 to 10 days.


If unvaccinated, your risk of contracting measles increases depending on the country you are travelling to. Measles remains a common viral infection in continents such as, Asia, Africa and the South America’s. As well as outbreaks in more developed countries such as the UK becoming more common.

I recommend you check with your GP that you and your children are up-to-date with the MMR vaccination before you travel (and even if not travelling).

Why are cases rising?

The World Health Organisation estimates 142,300 deaths from measles in 2018 worldwide, mostly due to a lack of vaccination uptake. The UK was previously declared a measles free country, but unfortunately due to parents declining to vaccinate their children, we no longer have that status. Indeed, cases of measles are continuing to increase year on year. So why aren’t people vaccinating?

This is partially due to some parents belief that there is a link between autism and the MMR vaccination. We have Dr Andrew Wakefield to thank for this fake news which he published in the medical journal The Lancet back in 1998. He was subsequently struck off the medical register in both the UK and the US as a result of publishing this dangerous misinformation. Dr Wakefield used only 12 children for his study in which he claimed the MMR vaccination can cause an inflammation of the digestive tract which in turn can lead to children developing Autism. His exact motive for these unfounded claims isn’t entirely clear, but he was also discovered to have projected a profit of over £40million selling test kits to diagnose this condition.

Since this misinformation was published, cases of measles have increased dramatically, as have deaths from the virus. Countries all over the world have all investigated the claim between autism and the MMR vaccination and have concluded there is no link, however parents remain in fear of the vaccination.

So what are the risks of the vaccine?

Most side effects are mild and short lived. Such as, mild red swelling at the injection site. A mild fever, rash or allergic rash known as urticaria. The Mumps component of the vaccination can cause swollen glands in the cheeks, neck or jaw lasting a couple of days.

As with any vaccination, there is a small chance of an anaphylactic reaction. The CDC states this occurs in only 1.8-14.4 cases per million in the case of the MMR vaccination.

Mumps and Rubella

The MMR vaccination not only protects you from measles, but also covers Mumps and Rubella.

I have seen a patient with Mumps and it is not fun! Mumps causes painful swelling to the face, almost causing a hamster like appearance. Also accompanied with headaches, high temperatures and painful joints. With symptoms lasting 1 to 2 weeks there is also no treatment. Symptom management is your only option, see advice above and consider cold compresses to the swollen glands.

Mumps will usually pass without any serious complications, but they are of course possible:

- Swelling to testicles or ovaries (patients who have gone through puberty)

- Viral meningitis

- Pancreatitis

- Encephalitis (infection of the brain)

- Hearing loss

Rubella, otherwise known as German Measles, also causes a spotty rash. This rash normally develops 2 to 3 weeks after infection. Also accompanied with similar flu like symptoms to Measles including viral conjunctivitis. Rubella does not cause the unique spots in the mouth which is indicative of measles, and the rash is more pink in colour.

Complications of rubella can also occur and is particularly dangerous in pregnant women within their first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Rubella can cause serious health problems for their unborn babies including sight, hearing, brain or heart problems.

My advice - take it or leave it!

For me personally, vaccinating my child against Measles, Mumps and Rubella was an absolute no-brainer, but I am sympathetic towards people who are concerned about vaccinations and their risks. I believe it is important that parents make an informed decision, but please ensure the information you get, particularly when searching online, are from reputable sources. Anyone can start a blog or write an article. I could easily use this space to state that a certain vaccination will cause your child to sprout two extra heads and develop vocal cords in their ass - but if I did, I would hope people would be sensible enough to realise I am not to be trusted.

I also believe that it is not bad parenting to accept that medical professionals are doing what is best for your child, and their advice and the years and years of research that accompanies any medical intervention is to be trusted. It seems odd to me that some people will happily eat a McDonalds, buy some food from the market, take random vitamin supplements and go for a drive in the car, in full faith that we won’t be harmed, but will not vaccinate their children.

What vaccine does a Pirate need?

M. M. Arrrrrr

If you have found this article helpful, I would love to hear about it. Drop a comment below and feel free to share the wisdom!

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