Measles in children is a highly contagious infection caused by the measles virus. It remains one of the leading causes of death in children despite the availability of vaccines against the disease. Measles virus can live on surfaces for several hours. Once the infected particles enters the atmosphere and settles on surfaces, anyone within close proximity can become infected.

According to WHO about 89,780 people died from measles in 2016 – mostly children under the age of 5 years. Measles vaccination prevented an estimated 20.4 million deaths between the years 2000-2016. Global measles deaths have also decreased by 84% from an estimated 550 100 in 2000 to 89 780 in 2016.


Cause and means of transmission

Measles is caused by measles virus which is a member of the paramyxoviridae family. The virus is highly contagious and can be readily passed from one person to another via;

  • Air droplets released from coughing and sneezing
  • Direct contact
  • Sharing of utensils with an infected person

Measles virus can be transmitted by an infected person 4 days before the onset of the rash to 4 days after the rash associated with measles erupts.

Signs and symptoms

The sign and symptoms of measles typically begin to manifest 10-12 days after exposure to the virus. The symptoms include;

  • high grade fever; greater than 40^c
  • cough
  • running nose
  • sore throat
  • corneal ulceration
  • kopliks spot; which is a small white spot seen inside the mouth and it manifests 2-3 days after the onset of the fever.
  • Rash; this is a red flat rash which typically begins from the face and extends to the leg. It also clears from the face downwards too. The rash is noticed 3-4 days after the onset of the symptoms. The rash typically lasts for 6-7 days before clearing off.

Unimmunized children and vitamin A deficient children are more prone to the disease. Previous infection confers some form of immunity on the person.



Measles is a leading cause of death especially in children under the age of 5. It is associated with so many complications as the virus affects the respiratory tract leading to pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) and the brain leading to encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Brain inflammation from measles has a mortality rate of 15%.

Other complications that can result include;

  • blindness; this is due to scarification of the cornea.
  • Ear infection; otitis media
  • Bronchitis
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Miscarriage or preterm delivery; this typically occur if a pregnant woman is affected

The death rate is about 3-6% of cases especially in malnourished children.



There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles. Supportive treatment is given in the management of measles which includes;

Adequate rehydration which is needed especially in cases with diarrhea.

Use of antipyretics such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to control the fever

Expose and tepid sponge the child to also reduce the fever

Good nutrition to help boost the child’s immunity

Antibiotics can be used to treat ear, eye and pneumonia infection

Vitamin A; this should be given to children with measles as this reduces the risk of blindness and the death rate by 50%. Two doses should be given 24 hours apart


85% of children who are given meascles vaccine at 9 months are protected from the virus and 95% of those that receive the second dose at 15 -18 months are immune from the disease. There is reduced severity of the disease in those who eventually become infected. It is therefore adviced you immunized your child at 9 months and at 15-18 months. Also, if you notice a person with measles rash it is important you reduce contact with such person till he/she is less infective.

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