What is measles?
Measles is a highly-contagious viral disease. At first, it manifests itself through an increase in body temperature, a runny nose, inflamed eyes and dry cough which is then followed by tiny white spots found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheeks as well as a skin rash. The rash usually starts off at the head and then spreads to the neck, chest and eventually to the rest of the body.
Especially with people suffering from a weakened immune system or children younger than 3, further complications can follow. These can include inflammation of the middle ear, pneumonia and in rare cases even encephalitis which is the inflammation of the brain.
A significant and unfavorable factor attributed to the disease is that the measles virus diminishes the cellular function of the immune system. As a result, this further weakens the body's immune system and its ability to fight other infections.
What causes this viral disease?
The cause of the infection is always someone who is already ill, i.e. usually someone who displays the first set of symptoms up until the sixth day since the rash first occurred. The likelihood of infection is highest in the early stages, namely 3-4 days prior to the onset of the rash. The disease spreads not only via droplet infection, but also through direct contact and the air. Outside of the human body, the virus quickly loses its potency to infect. Generally, the infection gateway to the body is the respiratory system, where the virus settles and then multiplies in the mucosa.
The incubation period is usually around 10 days or anywhere between 8-14 days. In some cases (for example following blood/plasma transfusions) it can be up to 28 days.
How common is measles?
Until the beginning of regular measles vaccinations in 1969, Czechoslovakia experienced approximately 50 thousand infections each year. With the onset of the collective immunization program, the number of cases dwindled and from 1982, only a handful of cases occurred each year.
Within the last couple of years however, collective immunization has been decreasing and the amount of infections is yet again on the rise. In 2014, there was a recorded increase in cases at Ústí nad Labem and last year alone, 130 people were infected in the Moravian-Silesian region.
From the beginning of 2018, the amount of infected people in Prague has been on the increase. As of 4.5.2018, there were 73 confirmed cases of this disease, out of which 24 was attributed to children younger than 18 (out of the 24, 18 children were not vaccinated).
The increase can be also noticed across the entire European region - with more than 5 thousand cases in 2016 and 21 thousand in 2017.
How is measles treated?
There is no specific medication available to treat measles. It is a viral disease and therefore it cannot be treated using antibiotics. Doctors therefore recommend symptomatic treatment instead which focuses on the treatment of the symptoms instead (such as the fever). Complicated cases may even require hospitalization.
How can the disease be prevented?
The only reliable preventive measure is vaccination. In the Czech Republic, vaccination against measles is carried out between the 13th and 18th month of the child's age with a combined vaccine that also includes protection against mumps and rubella.
In case of being infected, patients undergo isolation for a period of 7 days from the onset of the rash. After coming into contact with measles, susceptible individuals can be vaccinated within 72 hours of coming in contact with the disease. Susceptible people include all those who can fall ill. This includes all those who were not vaccinated yet as well as those who have not yet contracted the disease in the past. Once a person has been through the disease, they remain immune for the rest of their life.
The most important thing that you can do before coming in contact with the disease is to check that you and your children have been immunized against measles.