Measles (morbilli in Latin) used to be a very common infectious disease of childhood. Although its symptoms are usually related to skin, there occurred frequently many complications and the illness could be even fatal. Today, the measles have been practically eradicated in developed countries thanks to vaccination.


The disease is caused by a virus that is relatively easy transmitted by respiratory secretions. The source of infection is another infected person.


Virus spreads into the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, which takes several days. Vague flu-like symptoms develop such as fever, cough and fatigue. Later, the measles rash occurs. It is a reddish rash that starts in the head and neck and gradually progresses through the neck and torso to the lower limbs. Small spots appear in the oral mucosa looking like semolina. The rash and the flu-like symptoms disappear within 1-2 weeks.


The classic medical textbooks describe the affected child’s face as “measles face” or “face of an unhappy child”. It is an unhappy-looking tearful face with rash.


Children suffering from immune disorders and under-nourished children may not be strong enough to cope with the infection and the illness may have a much more serious form. Impetiginization (i.e. secondary bacterial infection of the viral rash) is a feared complication. The skin rash turns into suppurative infection that can easily transform into life-threatening sepsis.


Note: Of course, measles is not strictly a child disease. It can affect even adults and it is especially dangerous to pregnant women.


In addition to the above-mentioned disease symptoms, the diagnosis can be confirmed serologically by finding the serum antibodies against the measles virus.


The best mean of protection against the measles is vaccination. Countries with high-quality vaccination program have practically no problems with measles epidemics.


The disease can not be treated; it is only possible to support the patient to cope with the infection. Bed rest with adequate fluid intake is advisable. The fever is treated with classic anti-inflammatory drugs (with strict exception of acetylsalicylic acid in children due to fear of Reye's syndrome). Antibiotics are totally ineffective against the virus, but they may be used in case of secondary bacterial infection.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources