By all means immunise your child against measles
Posted Monday, August 6 2012 at 19:30
- Routine immunisation is highly effective in preventing this disease. Unvaccinated people, those who have not received full immunisation or those who were vaccinated but did not develop immunity are at the highest risk of infection, and death
A new student in my child’s school had a rash last week and was diagnosed to have measles. What is the risk to my child? Is there anything I can do to prevent my child from getting this disease? Please tell me more about measles.
Dear Distressed Mum,
Measles is a very contagious illness caused by a virus. It is easily spread by contact with droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of an infected person. Sneezing and coughing can put contaminated droplets into the air, and these can be transmitted by an infected person from four days prior to the onset of the rash to four days after the rash erupts.
If your child has been vaccinated, you have no cause to worry. He or she may not get the measles at all or may experience some mild signs and symptoms without any complications.
The signs and symptoms of measles begin about eight to 12 days after coming into contact with the virus; this is called the incubation period. The first sign is usually a high fever that lasts four to seven days. A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.
After several days, a rash appears, usually on the face and upper neck. Over the next days, the rash spreads to other parts of the body, moving down the body and eventually reaching the hands and feet. The rash lasts for four to seven days, and then fades.
Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/Aids or other diseases. Complications are more common in children under the age of five, or adults over the age of 20.
The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes the brain to swell), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Of note is, once you recover from measles, you are immune for the rest of your life.
There is no specific treatment for this disease. The treatment offered is mainly to relieve symptoms, like the use of paracetamol to relieve the fever. Bed rest, good nutrition and adequate fluid intake should be ensured to avoid development of complications.
In developing countries, children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. These supplements have been shown to reduce the number of deaths from measles by half and also can help prevent eye damage and blindness.
Routine immunisation is highly effective in preventing measles. Unvaccinated people, those who have not received full immunisation or those who were vaccinated but did not develop immunity are at the highest risk of measles and its complications, including death.
Some parents do not let their children get vaccinated due to various religious beliefs or unfounded fears that the measles vaccine can cause the disease. That is not true. The vaccine has been in use for over 40 years. It is safe, effective and inexpensive. In Kenya, measles vaccination is part of the routine immunisation schedule provided by the government. The vaccine is given to children once they are nine months of age.
How the measles vaccine works
Vaccines are made to prepare your body in case you get an infection. The vaccine may not fully prevent the illness, but it prevents it from becoming serious. To understand how the vaccine works, we will look at how your body reacts to germs.
When a person is exposed to a disease-causing germ, the immune system attempts to build a defence against it by producing substances known as antibodies. These antibodies kill the germs that have entered the body. In the end, the body is protected from the disease that these germs can cause.
The body then keeps a “memory” of this germ. If it were to return, the body would fight it even quicker than the first time. This is way the germ does not cause severe disease as the first time. This is what is known as “developing immunity”.
However, if the defence is not successful, another encounter with the germ can result in severe disease.
The measles vaccine works in a similar way. However, instead of a natural infection triggering the body’s immunity, the vaccine is used to trigger the immunity.
The measles vaccine is a weakened version of the real measles virus, and thus safe. It can sometimes cause a mild infection, but most people do not get the disease or its symptoms.