|Measles (Baby and infant)|
Mea one ofsles is the most highly infectious diseases. Babies under 1 year of age are most at risk of getting measles, but it can affect anyone of any age who has not been vaccinated against the disease or who has not had measles previously.
Although measles is often wrongly dismissed as a minor disease that all children will catch and recover from easily, the effects of measles can be extremely serious and even sometimes fatal.
Thanks to the childhood immunisation programme, the disease in now rare in the UK, although it has not been eliminated all together. If a child is not vaccinated as a baby, he or she will always remain at risk of catching the disease.
Measles is more common abroad. In countries with poor vaccination programmes, measles is a very severe disease. One million children die from measles world-wide each year. Consequently, anyone travelling to countries where measles is a problem must ensure that they and their family are fully immunised.
Measles is caused by a virus, known as a morbillivirus of the paramyxovirus family. The measles virus is highly infectious and can spread quickly, particularly in close-confined communities such as crèches and play groups if babies and infants are not immunised. The measles virus is spread through airborne transmission of droplets when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth or nose. A person with measles is infectious from about 4 days before to 4 days after a rash appears, but is most infectious before the rash is visible. Consequently, someone can spread the disease before they realise they have measles.
The incubation period for measles, ie the time taken for symptoms to appear after someone first becomes infected, is about 10 days. The symptoms of measles start like a bad cold with a high temperature, cough, sore eyes and runny nose. A red, blotchy rash appears at the head and spreads to the body and limbs over 3 to 4 days. The rash lasts for about a week before fading. Small red spots with blue-white centres, called Koplik spots, may be seen in the mouth on the inside of the cheeks.
Measles can be prevented by a highly effective and safe vaccine. In the UK, most children are routinely vaccinated against measles with a vaccine known as MMR, which also protects against mumps and rubella. In 1987, the year before the MMR vaccine was introduced in the UK, 86,000 children caught measles and 16 died. Through the success of the MMR vaccine, no child has died from acute measles in the UK since 1992.
You can obtain paracetamol from your local pharmacy without the need for a prescription to help reduce your baby’s temperature following immunisation. Always check the label of medicines to make sure that you are not giving your child too much paracetamol if giving more than one product. Aspirin should not be used in babies or in children under 16 years of age to lower high temperatures or for pain relief.
After MMR vaccination, your baby may be grizzly but if crying is prolonged or there is a persistent rash or fever, you should see your doctor. Swelling might occur at the injection site but is not normally any larger than the size of a 10p coin. Any larger swelling should be checked by your doctor.
The most effective way of protecting your baby and others against measles is to have your child vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. The childhood immunisation programme provides direct protection against mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, whopping cough and the risks of bacterial meningitis caused by pneumococcal bacteria, meningococcal type C and Hib. By providing immunity against mumps and measles, the immunisation programme also helps provide protection against viral meningitis. The risks of all of the diseases covered by the immunisation programme are far, far greater than any risks associated with the vaccines themselves. It is essential that all children are vaccinated at the appropriate times. Vaccination of children also helps reduce the spread of infection to adults.
Since 1998 there has been much publicity in the media wrongly linking the MMR vaccine with autism and bowel disease. This publicity led to many parents delaying their baby’s MMR vaccination or not giving the vaccine at all. Take up of the measles vaccine fell, plummeting to a low of just 80% in 2004; a level at which there is no ‘herd-immunity’, allowing the disease to spread rapidly. As a result, there has been an increase in outbreaks of measles and, tragically, some children and adults have died or been seriously brain damaged.
A baby or infant should be kept from crèches or play groups for 5 days after the rash appears. The practice of holding ‘measles parties’, deliberately to infect other babies to build their immunity without vaccination, is positively discouraged by the health authorities as it can pose a serious health risk to babies and other children.
Reviewed on 27 May 2011