What are the measles?

Roberta Torricelli

Measles is a very contagious viral infection which can cause quite unpleasant symptoms with at times, very serious complications. You might not have heard a lot about it until now because luckily, thanks to immunisation, it has become very uncommon here in the UK.

If you are infected by the measles virus, you might present with some general cold-like symptoms (runny nose, sneezing and coughing) as well as a fever. Some people can also develop red eyes and light sensitivity, along with a spotty grey-white rash inside their cheeks.

Normally the infection lasts between 7 to 10 days and doesn’t cause any further complications. During this time it’s important you rest and remain well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You can take some medications, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, to help you relieve your fever.

In some people however, the infection can become much more serious and potentially become life-threatening, spreading to the lungs, causing pus and fluid to build up inside the air sacs (condition known as pneumonia) and potentially to the brain as well, causing inflammation (encephalitis).

The virus spreads via very tiny droplets that come out of an infected person when they sneeze or cough. A person can be said to be infectious after ~4 days from when their symptoms first started. Because this is a very easy and fast way for the virus to spread, we have developed vaccines that can help us prevent it and defend ourselves. This is the MMR vaccine!

MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella, three very unpleasant and potentially serious viral infections. You usually receive the MMR vaccine as a child as part of your routine vaccination programme. The first dose is usually given when you are around 3 months old, which is why you probably won’t remember getting it!

It’s important we keep on vaccinating ourselves and our children with the MMR vaccine so that we can keep staying protected and help those that can’t get vaccinated be safe too.