London has seen an 'outbreak' of Measles over the last month, with this in mind, we spoke to our Resident Expert, Dr Bella Smith, about the in's and out's of the virus
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What is Measles?
Measles is a disease that is caused by a virus and affects only humans. It is very contagious and can have serious symptoms and complications. It is most serious in children under 5 years old and is still one of the main causes of death in children worldwide.
How is Measles spread?
Measles is spread from person to person through direct contact or through the air from sneezing and coughing. What are the symptoms?The first signs of infection are a high fever, runny nose, cough, and red watery eyes. You may also notice white spots on the inside of your cheeks and mouth.
After a few days a red characteristic rash will develop, first around your neck and ears and this then spreads over the rest of your body.
What are the complications?
Most of the deaths caused by measles are actually due to the complications, and these are most severe in under 5 years old and pregnant women who are not immune to the disease. Theses include severe diarrhoea and dehydration, severe pneumonia and ear infections, brain infections and blindness.
How do you treat a Measles infection?
Unfortunately there is no anti-viral treatment for measles. If a person has an infection then each complication is managed individually, for example a patient with dehydration from diarrhoea will be given fluids through a drip, and a patient with pneumonia may be given antibiotics.
How do you prevent measles?
There is a vaccine for measles that has been used in the UK since 1980 and all our children are routinely vaccinated within a few months of birth as part of their routine NHS vaccination programme. According to the World Health Organisation the ‘Measles vaccination resulted in a 79% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2014 worldwide’.
Why am hearing of more infections of measles?
Over the past decade there has been a drop in the number of parents choosing to vaccinate their children against MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella). This was thought to have stemmed from a study by a British Doctor called Andrew Wakefield who was claiming to have uncovered a link between MMR vaccine and austism. This study has since been entirely discredited, confirmed as fraud and Wakefield has been struck off the medical register for dishonesty. Unfortunately many parents lost confidence in the safety of the vaccination programme and this has left a cohort of children who are not immune to measles and are at risk of developing the disease. ‘Herd Immunity’ has subsequently been reduced and has put others at risk of being infected. The World health Organisation and medical professionals are trying to improve public confidence in the vaccine with a goal of elimating measles entirely in 5 WHO regions by 2020.
Take Home Message
The bottom line is that despite multiple investigations and studies over many years there is not a single piece of evidence to suggest that the MMR vaccine causes harm. The NHS vaccine programme is safe and extremely well researched.
It is therefore very important to have your children vaccinated against measles when they are young to prevent this disease. Be aware of the signs of measles and if you are concerned and think your child may have measles then seek medical advice from your GP as soon as possible.