This is one of those common skin rashes which children often acquire along with German measles (Rubella) and mumps. However, the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has proven to be effective at preventing this infection. As a result of this the number of measles cases in the UK has fallen although there has been an increase in the last few years. This may be due to parents choosing not to have their children inoculated with the MMR vaccine because of a suspected link to Autism. But recent studies have found no proven link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

(Source: NHS Choices: Health A-Z: Measles: 26.01.2010)

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Measles usually affects children between the age of one and four years old. But babies under the age of one can also be affected.

Symptoms of measles

This starts off with a fever followed by a cough, runny nose and eyes.

A few days later, white spots called ‘Koplik’s spots’will appear inside your baby’s mouth. These will appear as tiny white dots on a raised red area of skin.

A few days after that, a measles rash will develop on your baby’s face and body. This first appears on the face and neck before spreading to the chest, back, arms and legs. It will also appear on the hands and feet. The rash appears as a series of flat red spots but eventually develops into raised patches of skin which are also itchy. Your baby will develop a fever at the same time.

Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Persistent cough
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore eyes which are sensitive to bright lights
  • Irritability

These symptoms usually last for about two weeks. The measles rash lasts for around five to eight days before fading to a brown colour. It tends to leave the skin dry and flaky.

Causes of measles

Measles is caused by a virus called ‘paramyxovirus’. If someone with this virus coughs or sneezes then tiny droplets of this remain in the air or on a surface for a couple of hours.

If your baby breathes in this infected air or touches a surface which virus droplets have fallen onto then your baby will be infected.

If your baby has not had the MMR vaccine and has never had this infection then he/she has a 90% chance of developing measles. It usually takes around 7 to 14 days before your baby shows signs of this disease.

Treatment of measles

There is no specific form of treatment for measles but there are a few things you can do to make your baby more comfortable.

These include:

  • Put damp cloths on your baby’s skin to cool him/her down (useful for relieving a raised temperature).
  • Ensure that your baby gets plenty of rest and has enough fluids, e.g. juice and water to drink. This will prevent dehydration which can be a problem for babies and small children.
  • Close the curtains in your baby’s bedroom to help reduce light sensitivity. Clean around his/her eyes with a cotton wool ball to remove any crusting.
  • If your baby is over the age of one then he/she may be given a teaspoon of lemon and two teaspoons of honey, mixed together in a glass of warm water. This will help to ease his/her cough. Do not give this to your baby if he/she is under 12 months old. This also applies to cough medicines which must not be given to children under 6 or babies.
  • Your baby can be given paracetamol or ibuprofen which will ease any fever, aches and pains. Look for the varieties which are specially formulated for babies. Check with your pharmacist or GP first.

Do NOT give your baby or child aspirin as it can cause Reye’s syndrome -a rare but very serious disease which can be fatal.

These steps should ease the symptoms of measles but severe cases will require medical treatment. Antibiotics are not prescribed for measles due to it being a viral infection but can help if your baby develops a bacterial infection.

If there are no complications then your baby will recover after a week to ten days.

Complications of measles

Most babies recover fine but there is a risk of complications which include:

  • Conjunctivitis (eye infection)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Otitis media (inner ear infection)

These are the most common type of complications. There are also less common complications which are:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis/croup (an infection of the airways)
  • Encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain)
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain)
  • Hepatitis (an inflammation of the liver)

These diseases require medical treatment. In a few rare cases, measles can cause serious eye, heart and nervous system problems. But, thankfully, these tend to be rare.

If your baby’s condition worsens or you suspect any of the above then seek medical advice.

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