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 Measles

                                        October 2010  

 

Measles

MeaslesWhen you reach our age, most childhood diseases are simply a distant memory – that is, until the grandchildren start coming along.

Measles and German measles are names familiar to everyone. In general, people born before 1957 are likely to have had measles, mumps, and rubella during childhood and so are assumed to be immune. People born in or after 1957 should be immune to measles by having had one or more doses of MMR vaccine. However, despite this, measles and German measles do occasionally occur in adults and when that happens, the problems can be far more acute. So it is worth knowing a little about it all.

First, while both measles and German measles (rubella) share a common name, they are in fact quite different viruses.

Measles

Measles is caused by a virus that is spread by droplets. The virus is passed on through direct contact with someone who's infected, for example by touching or kissing them, or through breathing in contaminated air. It's fairly easy to catch if you haven't been vaccinated and come into contact with someone who has the infection.

Symptoms can take up to 10 or more days to develop after exposure to the virus (the incubation period). Early symptoms are like a cold, with possibly a runny nose, cough, conjunctivitis and fever.

The measles’ rash appears a day or two later, often starting behind the ears or on the face and spreading down across the body. It's a fine red rash which becomes blotchy and can be extremely irritating. One problem that occurs in measles is secondary infection caused by scratching, and sometimes this can also leave pot mark scars on the skin. The rash lasts for several days. There may also be abdominal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

The infection isn't usually serious but there are potential complications that can be dangerous, especially in vulnerable adults. These include pneumonia, hepatitis, conjunctivitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain, which occurs in about one in 5,000 cases).
There can also be complications involving the nervous system although these occur in less than one in 1,000 cases.

German Measles

German measles, or rubella, is in many ways similar to measles but it is caused by an entirely different virus and generally it causes milder symptoms. The name rubella comes from the Latin word meaning “little red”, probably with reference to the pink rash that is associated with the virus.

Like measles, it can be passed from person to person via droplets in the air, expelled when infected people cough or sneeze, but the virus can also be present in urine, faeces and on the skin. People with the disease are contagious for about a week or more before any outward signs – sometimes rubella can be so mild that the person doesn’t even notice they have it. But sometimes it causes flu-like symptoms plus a pink or light red rash which can be itchy and spread down the body. Usually the rash disappears within just a few days with no staining or peeling of the skin. Other symptoms can include a slight fever or swollen glands, headache, conjunctivitis and joint pains. In older patients the symptoms are usually more severe and there is a higher likelihood of arthritic type symptoms.

However, the disease is usually quickly over, lasting only a few days.

For adults, the usual treatment for both measles and German measles is to alleviate the symptoms, drink plenty of fluids and rest.

 


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