by Jodie Williamson MRPharmS, Pharmacist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society
In June 2017 Public Health Wales announced that there were four confirmed cases of Measles in Newport. By July 24 the number of cases confirmed had increased to 10. This outbreak triggered a rolling vaccination programme in the area, with over 1,000 children receiving the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. This outbreak was caused by the same strain of measles that has affected more than 14,000 people across Europe this year, and has sadly killed 35 people to date.
So what do you need to know about measles to keep you and your family safe?
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness which is passed from person to person via droplets which are released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can live on surfaces for several hours and you can catch measles just by touching that surface and then placing your hands near your nose and mouth.
The symptoms of measles are:
- Cold-like symptoms such as sneezing and a high temperature
- A Cough
- Sore, red eyes which are sensitive to light
- Small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks
- Reddish-brown blotchy rash which usually appears a couple of days after the other symptoms.
If you think that you or your child may have measles you should contact your GP. It is important to call the surgery before you attend so that they can take steps to reduce the risk of other patients becoming infected whilst you’re there. If you or your child has received two doses of the MMR vaccine or previously had measles then it is unlikely to be measles – there are a number of other conditions with similar symptoms.
Treating a measles infection
There is no specific treatment for measles, but there are a number of things you can do to ease the symptoms in ordinary cases.
- Paracetamol can be used to reduce a high temperature and relieve pain.
- Closing blinds/curtains or dimming lights can help with sensitivity to light.
- A sore throat or a cough can be soothed with hot drinks, particularly those containing honey and lemon. It is important to note that honey should not be given to babies under 12 months old.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Wash away crustiness around the eyes with damp cotton wool.
Your local pharmacist will be able to advise you on the best treatment for your symptoms. They will also make sure that any medicines you buy over the counter are safe to take with your regular medication if you take any.
More serious cases of measles
Measles usually lasts for 7-10 days and although it is often unpleasant, most cases pass without any additional complications. However, some people can develop serious, and even life-threatening illnesses such as pneumonia and meningitis. Other life-changing complications can include blindness and deafness. Serious complications are more likely to develop in children under 5, children with a poor diet and people with a weakened immune system.
Warning signs of serious complications from measles to look out for include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sharp chest pain that is worse when breathing in
- Coughing up blood
- Convulsions (fits)
If you or your child develops any of these symptoms you should go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or dial 999 for an ambulance.
Stop your family from being affected in the first place
The best thing you can do to protect you and your family from measles if make sure that you have all had two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose is usually given to babies when they are between 12 and 13 months old, and the second dose is given at 3 years and 4 months, but it is never too late to get vaccinated. If you’re not sure if you have received the vaccine, contact your GP surgery who will be able to check your records.