Measles is a serious, highly contagious viral infection of childhood. Symptoms of measles include fever, malaise, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis. The symptoms get worse over a period of a few days, and on approximately the fourth day, a rash appears. The rash is raised, splotchy, reddish-brown or purplish-red in color, and mildly itchy. It begins on the face and neck and spreads to the trunk, extremities, and feet, lasting about five to seven days. Red spots with a bluish-white center (known as Koplik's spots) appear on the inside of the mouth about twelve hours before the red rash first appears.
Once a person is infected with the measles virus, it can incubate for nine to fourteen days before signs of illness develop. A child with the measles is considered contagious for at least seven days after the beginning of the illness. Usually, the disease is self-limiting and runs its course within ten days. The fever falls, making the sufferer feel more comfortable in general, and the rash fades to a brownish color that gradually disappears as the outer layer of skin is shed. Once this happens, the child is no longer contagious.
The seriousness of measles lies in the potential for complications following the illness itself. Ear infections are one common complication. Pneumonia and encephalitis (an inflammation of the lining of the brain) are also possible, and more serious, complications. If your child's fever climbs to a very high level, if she has a seizure, or if you notice any changes in her level of consciousness or mental function, seek medical advice immediately. These may be symptoms of encephalitis, which can be fatal.
SYMPTOMS OF MEASLES
The first signs that a child is coming down with the measles usually include some combination of the following:
A stuffy and/or runny nose.
Red and possibly itchy eyes that may be sensitive to light.
Small red spots in her mouth.
Three to five days after these initial symptoms, a child with measles will develop a rash with the following general characteristics:
It is splotchy and brownish-pink in color.
It begins around the ears and/or on the face and neck, then spreads over the rest of the body (although in mild cases, the arms and legs may not be affected).
It is mildly itchy.
It lasts for four to seven days before fading away.
Treatment for measles is primarily aimed at alleviating symptoms while the virus runs its course. A child with the measles may run a fever as high as 104°F (in some cases higher), so fever control is a principal concern. You can give your child acetaminophen (in the form of Tylenol, Tempra, and other medications) or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, and others) to bring down fever and ease overall achiness and malaise.
Note: In excessive amounts, acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Be careful not to exceed the proper dosage for your child's age and size. ibuprofen is best given with food to prevent possible stomach upset.
Never give aspirin to a child who has--or
who you suspect may be coming down with-the measles. The combination of aspirin
and a viral infection has been linked to the development of Reye's syndrome,
a serious disease of the liver and brain.