Experts warn of measles outbreak: here are the symptoms, treatments and preventions of measles in children

Measles is a highly-contagious viral disease that is common in children and often identified by the measles rash. Despite cases being lowered in recent years because of nation-wide vaccination, there are still plenty of people who suffer with measles.

A new warning from Public Health England is urging parents to check if their children have been vaccinated, as cases of the conditions have risen to an eight-year high in Europe, the highest since 2010.

More than 41,000 measles cases have been reported across European countries like France, Greece, Italy – which have had 1,000 cases each – just in the first six months of the year, including 37 deaths, which could put children that haven’t been vaccinated at risk if they’re holidaying in Europe.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: ‘We have seen a number of measles outbreaks in England which are linked to ongoing large outbreaks in Europe.

‘The majority of cases we are seeing are in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were children. Anyone who missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past or are unsure if they had two doses should contact their GP practice to catch up.

‘We would encourage people to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccine before travelling to countries with ongoing measles outbreaks, heading to large gatherings such as festivals, or before starting university.’

If your child is not vaccinated, then there is a 90 per cent chance they will contract measles themselves if exposed to someone already infected.

Even in the UK, where medical aid is highly developed, one in every 15 children with measles will have complications – which can sometimes be fatal.

If you’re worried that you or your child may have contracted measles have a read through the guide below…

Measles symptoms

Much like the common cold, measles usually starts with a cough and feeling generally unwell. Key symptoms to look out for initially are:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sore or swollen red eyes
  • Fever
  • Aches and pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Small grey-white spots on the inside of the cheeks
  • Following these common symptoms a rash will usually develop after a couple of days. This will be made up of small reddish brown spots, which may join together in blotches or patches. Look out for it on the neck and head, as it usually starts on these areas.

    Measles treatment

    If you suspect you or you child has measles you should see your doctor immediately. Call ahead in case your doctors’ surgery needs to make arrangements to minimise the risk of spreading the disease.

    Once your doctor has confirmed the diagnosis there are a few things you can do to relieve the symptoms. Try:

  • Using paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down a high temperature or fever and relieve aches or pains
  • Drink plenty of fluids to make sure your child doesn’t dehydrate with a fever and to keep their throat comfortable
  • Treat sore eyes with a cotton ball soaked in warm water and hold over their eyelids to clean away crustiness
  • Keep lights dimmed and curtains closed if their eyes are aching
  • If your child has cold-like symptoms too, then treat as you normally would. Warm baths and plenty of fluids will help keep them comfortable.

    Measles complications

    If complications do arise in those suffering from measles it can be potentially life-threatening, so it’s really important to look out for the signs and symptoms of this.

    If your child has a shortness of breath, sharp chest pains, is coughing up blood, feels drowsy or confused, or they’re having fits then the NHS advise taking your child straight to A&E or calling and ambulance on 999.

    How measles is spread

    Measles is really easily spread, so if your child has caught it then you’ll have to keep them off of school until they’re better. This usually lasts about 7-10 days after the first symptoms appear but seek specific case-by-case advice from your GP.

    Much like a cough, measles is spread through mucus or saliva when someone infected coughs or sneezes. And it’s possible to pick up the virus from a surface where droplets have settled, too, as it can survive for a few hours outside of the body.

    How to prevent measles

    Measles is now uncommon in the UK, since the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine became widely available. All children are eligible and they will be given their first dose at around 13 months and their second shot just before they start school. Vaccines are available at any time for older children and adults.