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Monday, April 22, 2024

Measles is more than just a rash

As spring finally arrives in the UK, adults and parents are being warned about the increasing risk of measles. This follows an increase in the number of people with measles in the UK and across 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 www.swLondon-healthiertogether.nhs.uk.

Dr Naqvi says: “You need to know what the rash could look like on your skin and that of your children and loved ones, as it can look very different on different skin tones.”

Dr Mohammed Naqvi

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.

“Many of my patients don’t have a nani, nana or older relative who had measles and thankfully, they don’t have first-hand knowledge of how devastating measles can be” says Dr Naqvi.

Measles rash on browner skin tone

“While that highlights how successful the UK’s vaccination programme has been, it means people sometimes don’t recognise the importance of vaccination and haven’t been vigilant in ensuring they and all of their children have had both doses of the MMR vaccine.”

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

Leilani’s story

Leilani was born both growth restricted and prematurely. She spent the first 10 weeks of her life in the special care baby unit, including intensive care. She was diagnosed with measles in 2004, while still an infant, as her Mum, Nicole explains.

“She was our first child, and life was a bit of a rollercoaster until she was finally and thankfully, well enough to leave hospital. As parents, we were on high alert for anything going wrong, or people giving her an infection. We did everything we could to keep her safe, including her baby vaccinations.

“Before her MMR appointment, I saw the rash. Instantly, I knew it was measles. I called my Mum who was really concerned, despite my reassurances she was fine.

“Leilani got an urgent appointment to see her GP who diagnosed measles and was also concerned. I explained that Leilani was fine in herself, just very sleepy and thankfully children’s pain relief was reducing her temperature to normal.”

“I couldn’t understand why my mum was so worried, but she explained that my paternal aunt died from health complications after catching measles as a child.

“While I knew one of my dad’s sisters had died in childhood, it wasn’t really spoken about,” says Nicole “I didn’t know that measles was anything other than a rash. Suddenly I understood why my Mum, the health visitor and the doctor were so concerned.

Dr Naqvi understands the concern around measles: “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.”

Measles rash on paler skin tones

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Nicole says, “As a mother, I did my research and even though Leilani has had measles, she still had her first dose of the MMR vaccine once she had fully recovered from the disease. She also had the second doses of MMR to ensure she was effectively protected against mumps and rubella too.”

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. www.swLondon-healthiertogether.nhs.uk. You can also access information about measles and vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (the MMR) on the NHS.UK website.

There are lots of things you can do if you or your child is ill. 

For mild ailments, look on the NHS.UK website for self care advice, 

perhaps see your local pharmacy for advice about minor ailments, symptoms or existing prescriptions or over the counter medicines  

If symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, or you’re worried, the free NHS 111 service (call or online) can give your advice about an illness or book an urgent health appointment in the right place for you.  

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