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Measles

Measles is a rare infection triggered by the morbillivirus. It causes symptoms similar to those caused by flu, and later a rash.

  1. Mostly eradicated in the UK, but sometimes contracted abroad
  2. Causes a cold and fever, and a rash
  3. Treated by alleviating symptoms

Our private video consultation service enables you to speak to a UK doctor about measles online. They will be able to assist you in addressing symptoms and advise you on how to tackle the condition.

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Description

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that is caught by breathing in or touching droplets from an infected person. These droplets can be deposited through sneezing or coughing. The incubation period for measles is usually around 10 days, and the feeling of fever and cold symptoms will be the first signs someone notices. These will last for a few days before the rash develops. 

What causes measles?

The condition is caused by the morbillivirus. According to the CDC, 9 in 10 people who aren’t immune to it (for example, people who haven’t had it before or haven’t been vaccinated against it) and come into contact with an infected person, will pick up the virus. Public Health England has estimated that around 15-20 people on average are infected from a single case in the UK.

Measles was once an epidemic in the UK, but is now much rarer. Before the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine was initiated nationwide in 1988, measles had a yearly incidence rate of between 50,000 and 100,000. Since then, numbers have fallen dramatically; between January and September 2018 there have been just 876 cases, and the majority of these incidences were associated with recent travel.

Complications occur in around a fifth of all cases in developed countries. This is usually due to the immune system being weaker after the infection has cleared, and unable to react to potential pathogens in the same way as it normally would. Complications often involve the respiratory tract (for example pneumonitis, pneumonia and tracheobronchitis). However, measles can also lead to complications affecting the central nervous system, such as convulsions and encephalitis. 

There is no treatment for measles. The virus is self-limiting in the majority of instances, so getting rest and drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated will be the usual recommended course of action. Precautionary measures to avoid spreading the infection should also be observed (for example, limiting contact with others and staying off work until the infection has cleared up).

What should I do if I develop symptoms?

It’s advisable to speak to a doctor if you develop the symptoms described above. They will be able to identify whether you have measles, and offer advice as required. Our private video consultation service can help you if you would like to speak to a doctor about measles online.  You can arrange a consultation with them at a convenient time for you.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How is measles diagnosed?

Measles can be diagnosed from the various symptoms it typically displays. Symptoms of a cold and fever are presented within 7-10 days of being infected. They last for a few days before a cluster of white spots develop in the mouth. The rash then develops on the skin, which initially appears on the face and neck before spreading across the body over the following few days. This normally lasts for up to a week, after which the infection will subside.

Will I need tests?

In most cases you will not need to have tests for measles, as the symptoms are fairly easy to identify. However, it is also possible for the rash to be confused with another condition, so if a doctor is unsure, then a viral culture test could be performed. This is normally done through a blood test.

What will a doctor normally advise?

A doctor is likely to advise you to take measures to alleviate the symptoms of measles, such as resting, drinking fluids, and using paracetamol. Measles is usually a self-limiting disease, so although the symptoms may be difficult to cope with, they will tend to clear up in a week or two. Furthermore, they will recommend that work is avoided during the initial formation of the rash, and also that no one who is particularly susceptible should come into direct contact with the infection.

What treatments are there for measles?

There is no specific treatment to treat simple cases of measles. Ibuprofen and paracetamol can be useful to help cope with the pain associated with the condition. 

There are several severe symptoms that could indicate complications (such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing up blood). If you notice any of these, you should go to A&E as they are indications of a secondary infection that requires urgent treatment.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is measles treated?

With plenty of rest and hydration. If someone has a headache due to measles, paracetamol may be able to relieve this symptom. 

There are no antiviral treatments for measles. The virus will normally pass on its own.

What treatments are there?

There are no specific treatments for measles. There is a vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR) which greatly reduces the risk of contracting the virus. Since this was introduced in the UK 30 years ago, cases of measles have significantly dropped.

Potential complications of measles, such as pneumonia, will need to be assessed by a doctor and may require hospital admission. If you develop severe symptoms which affect your breathing, you should seek medical advice as soon as you can.

Can I consult a doctor about measles online?

Yes. If you are concerned about measles, or think you may be developing symptoms of measles, our doctors are available to chat. You can book an appointment to speak to a doctor about measles online through our consultation service. Choose a time that suits you.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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