Measles is more than just a rash

Measles is more than just a rash

As spring finally arrives in the UK, adults and parents are being warned about the increasing risk of measles. This follows an increase in the number of people with measles in the UK and across Europe.

What is measles?

A lot of people think that measles is ‘just a rash’ but it is more than that. It is a serious disease that spreads easily and can cause severe illness, or complications which can include meningitis, sepsis and blindness.

Measles usually starts with cold-like symptoms, followed a few days later by a rash of flat or slightly raised spots, that start on the face before spreading down the body. These spots can join together to make blotches.  On paler skin, the rash can look red or reddish-brown and on black or brown skin the rash might look browner and be harder to see. It might be very pigmented and feel bumpy.

Dr Simon Drysale,

Dr Simon Drysdale, is a children’s hospital doctor in South West London. He advises that people look at the photos of the measles rash on different skin tones on the website Dr Drysdale says:

“The rash can look different on different skins tones, so it’s important to know what it could look like on your skin and that of your children.”

Vaccines are our best protection

But there is good news. While there is no medical treatment for measles, just two vaccinations offer good, lifelong protection.

Dr Darren Ranasinghe, a children’s doctor in London explains that more people are catching measles because not as many people are getting both doses of the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Dr Ranasinghe says “Two doses of the MMR vaccine are needed to provide effective and life-long protection against measles, mumps and rubella. And these conditions can affect both, adults and children.”

Leilani’s story

Leilani was born both growth restricted and prematurely. She spent the first 10 weeks of her life in the special care baby unit, including intensive care. She was diagnosed with measles in 2004, while still an infant, as her mum, Nicole explains.

“She was our first child, and life was a bit of a rollercoaster until she was finally and thankfully, well enough to leave hospital. As parents, we were on high alert for anything going wrong, or people giving her an infection. We did everything we could to keep her safe.

“Before her MMR appointment, I saw the rash. Instantly, I knew it was measles. I called my Mum who was really concerned, despite my reassurances she was fine.

“Leilani got an urgent appointment to see her GP who diagnosed measles and was also concerned. I explained that Leilani was fine in herself, just very sleepy and thankfully children’s pain relief was reducing her temperature to normal.”

“I couldn’t understand why my mum was so worried, but she explained that my paternal aunt died from health complications after catching measles as a child.

Dr Darren Ranasingh

“While I knew one of my Dad’s sisters had died in childhood, it wasn’t really spoken about,” says Nicole “I didn’t know that measles was anything other than a rash. Suddenly I understood why my Mum, the health visitor and the doctor were so concerned.

Dr Drysdale understands the concern around measles, “I specialise in treating infections in children, and if someone has measles, mumps or rubella, there isn’t a cure. We can treat symptoms and any complications. But we can’t cure the disease.”

“Measles can lead to serious complications including pneumonia and brain infections.” adds Dr Ranasinghe. “While these complications are rare, sadly, one in five children with measles will need to go to hospital. If you or your child has measles and their health appears to be getting worse, please seek advice.”

If you think you or your child may have measles, please let the GP surgery know this, before you attend for your appointment. You are advised to go to A&E if you experience any of the following; shortness of breath, a high temperature that doesn’t come down after taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, coughing up blood, drowsy or confused, or a fit, seizure or convulsion. 

What about mumps and rubella?

Mumps is often seen as painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears, and is often described as giving someone a “hamster face” appearance.

“Thankfully, complications from mumps are rare,” says Dr Drysdale, “but it can lead to viral meningitis or swelling of the testicles or ovaries.”

The main symptom of Rubella (which some people call German measles) is a spotty rash that starts on the face or behind the ears and spreads to the neck and body. Thanks to vaccination, getting Rubella in pregnancy is very rare.

“There is a real risk that if someone gets rubella in early pregnancy, it could seriously harm their baby’s health and even lead to pregnancy loss,” says Dr Drysdale.

Measles spreads very easily 

If you or your child are unvaccinated you are at high risk of catching measles. It spreads easily and nine out of ten unvaccinated children can catch measles if someone in their class has it. 

Dr Drysdale advises, “If your child has measles please keep them away from school for at least four days from when the rash first appears. If you have measles, please stay away from work and others, again for at least four days from when the rash first appears.

“Also please regularly wash your hands with soap and water. This will help to reduce the risk of passing it to those who are more vulnerable, like babies, the elderly, people prone to infections or unvaccinated pregnant mothers.”  

Measles can start with cold like symptoms

Who can get vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella?

Two doses of the MMR vaccine are needed to provide effective and life-long protection against measles, mumps and rubella. The first dose of the MMR vaccine is often given to babies at one year of age, followed by the second dose when the child is aged about three years and four months. 

Dr Ranasinghe advises that adults and children who have missed one, or both doses of the MMR vaccine can get their vaccine now.

“To get you or your child vaccinated, please make an appointment at your GP practice. Vaccination against measles is especially important in children, and in those who are considering parenthood, as it’s generally not advisable to get the MMR vaccine once you are pregnant.”’

If you are unsure about whether you and your child have been vaccinated against measles you can check your child’s health records – also known as their red book, or ask their GP practice.

Nicole says, “As a mother, I did my research and even though Leilani has had measles, she still had her first dose of the MMR vaccine once she had fully recovered from the disease. She also had the second doses of MMR to ensure she is protected from measles, mumps and rubella. Her younger brother and sister are both vaccinated too.”

Dr Ranasinghe adds, “If you’re invited to get vaccinated against measles or COVID for example during your fasting hours, most Muslim scholars agree this won’t invalidate your Ramadan fast. When arranging your vaccination appointment, you can also ask them to make sure that you are given a vaccine that doesn’t contain porcine gelatine.”

For more advice on vaccination talk to a health professional or visit the NHS.UK website. You can also access clear and comprehensive advice on a wide range of children’s and pregnancy conditions on the South West London Healthier Together website. You can also access information about measles and vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (the MMR) on the NHS.UK website.

Cut out box.

There are lots of things you can do if you or your child is ill. 

For mild ailments, look on the NHS.UK website for selfcare advice, perhaps see your local pharmacy for advice about minor ailments, symptoms or existing prescriptions or over the counter medicines.  

If symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, or you’re worried, the free NHS 111 service (call or online) can give your advice about an illness or book an urgent health appointment in the right place for you.  

Your local GP practice is here too, we can help you with most preventative, pregnancy, physical and mental health advice.  

You can go to a minor injuries department for help with cuts, sprains, strains and minor burns.   Or ring 999 or a local accident and emergency (A&E) department for serious or life-threatening conditions.   

Categories: Health