Measles is more than just a rash

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Adults and parents are being warned about the increasing risk of measles as the number of people with measles rises across the UK and Europe.

What is measles?

A lot of people think that measles is ‘just a rash’ but it is more than that. It is a serious disease that spreads easily and can cause severe illness, or complications which can include meningitis, sepsis and blindness.

Measles usually starts with cold-like symptoms, followed a few days later by a rash of flat or slightly raised spots, that start on the face before spreading down the body. These spots can join together to make blotches.  On paler skin, the rash can look red or reddish-brown and on black or brown skin the rash might look browner and be harder to see. It might be very pigmented and feel bumpy.

Dr Muhammad Naqvi, a GP in London, advises that people look at the photos of the measles rash on different skin tones on the website

Vaccines are our best protection

But there is good news. While there is no medical treatment for measles, just two vaccinations offer good, lifelong protection.

Dr Naqvi explains that more people are catching measles because not as many people are getting both doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“Just two doses of the vaccine give lifelong effective protection against measles, mumps and rubella. Protecting them and those around them.”

What are mumps and rubella?

“Mumps is often seen as painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears, and is often described as giving someone a “hamster face” appearance” says Dr Naqvi.

“Thankfully, complications from mumps which can lead to viral meningitis or swelling of the testicles or ovaries are rare,” he adds.

The main symptom of Rubella (which some people call German measles) is a spotty rash that starts on the face or behind the ears and spreads to the neck and body.

“Thanks to vaccination, getting Rubella in pregnancy is very rare. But there is a real risk that it could seriously harm their baby’s health and even lead to pregnancy loss,” warns Dr Naqvi.

Dr Naqvi

Measles spreads very easily 

If you or your child are unvaccinated you are at high risk of catching measles. It spreads easily and nine out of ten unvaccinated children can catch measles if someone in their class has it.

Dr Naqvi advises, “If your child has measles please keep them away from school for at least four days from when the rash first appears. If you have measles, please stay away from work and others, again for at least four days from when the rash first appears.”

People with measles are advised to regularly wash their hands with soap and water, to help to reduce the risk of passing it to those who are more vulnerable, like babies, the elderly, people prone to infections or unvaccinated pregnant mothers.

“Measles can lead to serious complications including pneumonia and brain infections, and there isn’t a cure for measles, mumps or rubella.”

“While these complications are rare, sadly, one in five children with measles will need to go to hospital. If you or your child has measles and their health appears to be getting worse, please seek urgent advice.”

If you think you or your child may have measles, please let the GP surgery know this, before you attend for your appointment. You are advised to go to A&E if you experience any of the following; shortness of breath, a high temperature that doesn’t come down after taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, coughing up blood, drowsy or confused, or a fit, seizure or convulsion.

Who can get vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella?

Two doses of the MMR vaccine are needed to provide effective and life-long protection against measles, mumps and rubella. The first dose of the MMR vaccine is often given to babies at one year of age, followed by the second dose when the child is aged about three years and four months. Adults and children who have missed one, or both doses of the MMR vaccine can get their vaccine now. Dr Naqvi says:

“You can check your child’s health records – also known as their red book, to see if they have had both doses of the MMR vaccine, or ask their GP practice.”

Children under three years and four months, who have missed their first MMR does can get it now from their GP practice, Children aged over three years and four months who have missed one or both doses of their MMR vaccination can get them now, at their GP practice.

“To protect your child, phone their GP and make an appointment for them to have their missed MMR vaccine,” says Dr Naqvi. Adding “If you are invited to get vaccinated against measles or COVID for example during your fasting hours, most Muslim scholars agree this won’t invalidate your Ramadan fast. When arranging your vaccination appointment, you can also ask them to make sure that you are given a vaccine that doesn’t contain porcine gelatine.”

For more advice on vaccination talk to a health professional or visit the NHS.UK website. You can also access clear and comprehensive advice on a wide range of children’s and pregnancy conditions on the South West London Healthier Together website. You can also access information about measles and vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (the MMR) on the NHS.UK website.


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