Measles Virus Definition

An illness resulting from infection with the measles virus. Once among the most common childhood diseases worldwide, measles (also called rubeola) now primarily exists in developing nations where it remains a leading cause of childhood blindness and death.

Routine measles immunization, the standard of care since becoming available in the early 1960s, has eradicated measles from much of the industrialized world. In the United States children generally receive measles vaccine through the combination MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.

Symptoms of Measles virus

Measles is one of the most highly contagious infections and spreads through droplet contamination via airborne transmission (sneezing and coughing) as well as direct contact. The virus invades the lining of the throat and the lungs, where it replicates. The virus then uses the lymphatic system to enter the blood circulation, after which prodrome symptoms emerge that include

  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Congestion of the nasal passages and profuse nasal discharge
  • Nonproductive cough

Course of Disease Measles

Within two days the characteristic measles rash emerges. This red, itchy rash starts at the hairline on the scalp and spreads to cover the entire body, including the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The course of illness runs about 10 days after the rash begins. The infection is most contagious during the prodrome stage, though contagiousness continues through the rash stage. Diagnosis is clinical based on the characteristic nature of symptoms and history of exposure.

Risk and Treatment

The risk for complications from measles is high, primarily because the measles virus’s use of the immune system to distribute itself compromises the immune response, lowering resistance to infection from other pathogens. As a consequence secondary bacterial infections, notably OTITIS media (middle EAR infection) and pneumonia, are common.

Such bacterial infections require treatment with antibiotic medications, though antibiotics do not treat measles. The measles virus may also cause viral pneumonia and meningitisImmunoglobulin may prevent or moderate illness in people exposed to measles.

However, antiviral medications are not effective. Complications are more common in people who have vitamin A deficiency, though doctors do not know whether vitamin A supplementation during illness with measles decreases this risk.

See also BACTERIACHICKENPOX; MUMPSPATHOGEN; PREVENTIVE HEALTH CARE AND IMMUNIZATIONSNEEZE/COUGH ETIQUETTE; VITAMINS AND HEALTH.

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