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Measles

Last update: 2022-06-07

Key facts

Measles is a very contagious virus that can make children very sick. In a community where no one is vaccinated, one person with measles can infect between 12 and 18 other people.

Transmission

  • Coughing, sneezing or close personal contact (infected droplets in the air are breathed in by another person)
  • Direct contact with infected nose or throat mucous

Symptoms

  • Can start with high fever, runny nose, cold, cough, red and watery eyes and sometimes white spots inside the mouth.
  • After a few days, a flat red blotchy rash appears, usually starting on the head, face and upper neck, and continues to spreads to the rest of the body.
  • In severe cases, measles can cause blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Prevention

  • Routine vaccination of children
  • Mass vaccination campaigns with social mobilization in countries where the disease is common and causes many deaths
  • Rapid detection and referral of suspected cases to health facilities
  • Reduced overcrowding in shelters
  • Improved ventilation in shelters
  • Separation of people sick with measles for four days after they develop a rash
  • Coughing etiquette (cough into sleeve, handkerchief or tissue, NOT the hand)
  • Handwashing with soap
  • Social mobilization and behaviour change communication

Vulnerable people

  • Children who are not vaccinated, especially those who are poorly nourished or have vitamin A deficiency
  • Adults aged more than 20 years old
  • Pregnant women
  • Displaced populations and those living in cramped or crowded conditions
  • People whose immune systems are compromised (for example, by leukaemia or HIV infection)

If an epidemic occurs

  • Rapidly detect and refer cases to health facilities
  • Support mass vaccination campaigns
  • Isolate sick people (separate them from healthy people)
  • Promote coughing etiquette (cough into sleeve, handkerchief or tissue, NOT the hand)
  • Promote handwashing with soap
  • Check nutritional status of children under five years old and promote nutritional support to those who are malnourished or sick
  • Promote exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life
  • Increase social mobilization and behaviour change communication
  • Reduce overcrowding in shelters
  • Improve ventilation in shelters

Community-based assessment - questions

  • When did people start to fall sick with measles?
  • How many people have fallen sick with measles? Where?
  • How many people have died? Where?
  • How many people live in the affected community or area? How many children under five years of age live in the area?
  • Who and where are the vulnerable people?
  • Are children under five most affected? Or are other age groups, occupations, etc., more affected?
  • Are children in the affected community vaccinated for measles or not?
  • Is a vaccination campaign planned?
  • Do strong cultural beliefs or perceptions about vaccination prevent children from being vaccinated?
  • Where are the local health facilities and services? (Include traditional and community carers.)
  • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about caring for and feeding sick
    people? When babies and infants are sick, do mothers continue to breastfeed them?
  • Is a social mobilization or health promotion programme in place?
  • Which sources of information do people use most?
  • Are rumours or is misinformation about the disease spreading in the community?

Measles