Infection and Inflammation

What Causes Measles (Rubeola)? 2 Types of Measles

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:53 am

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease caused by a virus called measles virus. It spreads through coughing or sneezing. Measles is one of the most common childhood disease worldwide. Measles, also known as Rubeola.

What is Measles?

Measles is an extremely contagious viral disease that causes a high fever, generalized rash, runny nose, cough, red eyes without discharge, and can have severe complications, including death. Anyone who has a fever and also rashes should seek medical attention. Though there is no specific measles treatment or cure, there are home remedies that can help ease symptoms and signs.

Measles Vaccine

Measles is a vaccine-preventable illness best known for causing a high fever (often up to 104 F), a characteristic rash, cough, runny nose (coryza), and redness of the eyes without discharge (conjunctivitis). Measles may occur in any nonimmune person, both children and adults. Vaccination has significantly reduced the number of cases, although a worldwide or any nationwide outbreak has been mostly because of an increased number of individuals refusing vaccination.

2 Types of Measles

There are two types of measles, each caused by a different virus. Although both produce a rash and fever, they are different diseases. When most people use the term measles, they are referring to the first condition below.

  • The rubeola virus causes “red measles,” also known as “hard measles,” or just “measles.” Although most people recover without problems, rubeola can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
  • The rubella virus causes “German measles,” also known as “3-day measles.” This is usually a milder disease than red measles. However, this virus can cause profound birth defects if an infected pregnant woman passes the virus to her unborn child.

What Causes Measles?

Both the rubeola and rubella viruses spread through the respiratory route. This means they infect susceptible individuals exposed to an infected person who is coughing and sneezing. The rash is not contagious. The rubeola virus is one of the most contagious viruses known to man. As a result, it can spread rapidly in a susceptible population.

If people are immune to the virus (either through vaccination or by having had measles in the past), they cannot get the disease caused by that virus. For example, someone who had rubeola as a child could not get the disease again. Remember that rubella and rubeola are different viruses. Infection with or vaccination against one of these viruses does not protect against infection with the other.

Signs and Symptoms of Measles

Symptoms and signs appear about 8 to 12 days after the rubeola virus infects a person. This time between exposure to the measles virus and the development of initial symptoms is the incubation period. Rubeola symptoms and signs occur in two phases;

  • The early phase begins with these symptoms:
    • Fever (up to 104 F)
    • A run-down or lethargic feeling
    • Cough
    • Red watery eyes without discharge (conjunctivitis)
    • Runny nose (coryza)
    • Loss of appetite
  • The red measles rash develops 2 to 4 days after the onset of the initial symptoms and signs.
    • The rash usually starts on the face, spreading to the trunk and then to the arms and legs.
    • The rash is initially small red bumps that may blend into each other as more appear. From a distance, the rash often looks uniformly red. The rash lasts for 5 to 7 days.
    • People with measles may develop small greyish spots on the inside of the cheek called “Koplik spots.” Koplik spots are about the size of a grain of sand, with the grey spots having a red collarette. They are not painful.
    • The skin rash is usually not itchy or painful, but as it clears up, the skin may shed (this looks like skin that is peeling after a sunburn).
    • Patients with measles look and feel miserable. Common (10%) complications include ear infections and diarrhoea. Approximately 1 in 20 people with measles develop pneumonia. This complication is especially serious in infants and handles most deaths in this age group. Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) occurs about once in every thousand cases of measles and is a serious complication that can be fatal. Overall, approximately 1 in 1,000 people who develop measles will die from a complication of the disease. Young unvaccinated infants and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable.
    • Red measles are severe in people with weakened immune systems, including people who are malnourished, receiving chemotherapy, or have HIV.
    • A rare and always fatal delayed complication of measles is SSPE (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis). This condition will develop 7-10 years after experiencing measles and is most frequent in people who developed measles at less than 2 years of age.
    • Measles contracted during pregnancy can be associated with prematurity and low birth weight in the newborn.

Rubella Symptoms (German measles)

German measles cause milder symptoms than red measles. The incubation period between getting the virus and getting sick is 16-18 days.

  • Initially, some people experience fatigue, low-grade fever, headache, or red eyes several days before the rash appears. These symptoms and signs are more common among adults than in children.
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes may occur at the back of the neck.
  • The rash is light red to pink. It starts as individual spots that may merge. The rash usually starts on the face and moves down to the trunk.
  • The rash rarely itches, but as it clears up, the skin may shed. Individuals are most contagious a few days before the rash develops to seven days after it first appeared.
  • Adolescents and adults who get rubella may get painful joints for days to weeks after the infection. This typically affects the hands, wrists, and knees.
  • Symptoms and signs may be so mild that people do not notice them, especially in children. Studies have shown that approximately 25%-50% of infected people do not have any symptoms or signs. Most symptoms resolve in a few days, but swollen lymph nodes may persist for a few weeks.
  • The most feared complication of rubella is “congenital rubella,” which occurs when an infected pregnant woman passes the virus to her unborn child. Among other problems and birth defects, affected infants may have cataracts, heart defects, hearing impairment, and learning disabilities. The risk of transmission is highest early in pregnancy. The virus may also cause miscarriage or stillbirth.

Measles Disease

Infected people carry the virus in their respiratory tract before they get sick, so they can spread the disease without being aware of it. This is because there is an 8- to the 12-day incubation period. The incubation period is the time between exposure to the measles virus and the onset of the first symptoms.

Both rubella and rubeola have become so uncommon that those affected normally go to their doctor with a rash and the other associated findings noted above. Both children and adults who have a fever and a rash should contact their physician. Doctors should evaluate people who encounter an infected person to see if they need special measures to keep them from developing measles. Normally, measles is not a disease that requires emergency care or hospitalization.

Measles Blood Test

Depending on the symptoms, the doctor may diagnose measles based on the patient’s history and physical exam alone. In questionable cases, the doctor can perform specialized blood tests to help with the diagnosis, but these tests usually are unnecessary.

Blood tests can also determine if a person is immune to measles.

Measles Home Remedies

Although there is no cure for measles, there are steps that can make the disease tolerable. These include the following;

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Sponge baths with lukewarm water may reduce discomfort because of fever.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help avoid dehydration.
  • A humidifier or vaporizer may ease the cough and nasal congestion.
  • Pain relievers and fever reducers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can help with symptoms when used according to the doctor’s advice. Remember, never to give aspirin to children or teenagers because it may cause a disease known as Reye syndrome. Reye syndrome is a rare and often fatal disease affecting the brain and liver.

Do not take self-medication and do not rely fully on home remedies for measles and always consult with your doctor. 

You may also interest in reading: Lab Test Near Me

Reference: eMedicineHealth

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