Measles
As of July 2019, India stood fourth among 194 countries which have registered cases of measles this year.
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A new report published this month revealed that most infants are prone to the measles infection by the time they are three months old. This goes against the long held belief that breastfed infants are protected by their mother’s antibodies against measles for up to six months.

The report was recently published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The disease is a global public health issue. With new information emerging about it, TNM tells you five things about measles you need to know.

What is measles?

Measles is an extremely contagious virulent disease of the respiratory system. It is caused by an infection with a virus from the family paramyxovirus. It is a major cause of death of children under the age of five around the world. The infection spreads via droplets in the air and is highly contagious as a result. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for the elimination of measles through up-to-date immunisation. WHO’s Global Vaccine Action Plan aims to eliminate measles in five of the WHO’s regions by the end of 2020.

What are the vaccines available against the virus and when should children be immunised?

The vaccine given for measles is a trivalent one (i.e it immunises against three diseases) called the MMR vaccine, which stands for measles, mumps and rubella. The MMR vaccine is given to infants between 9 and 12 months. Ideally, if the child is breastfed, it was thought that the mother’s antibodies to measles would protect the child for the duration that the baby would breastfeed. Since it is recommended to breastfeed for at least 6 months, the current notion is to administer the vaccine to the child following this period. However, the new study shows that up to 25 percent of infants did not have sufficient levels of the antibodies in their blood to protect against measles when screened.

What does the new study mean for someone whose child is yet to be immunised?

While the recently released report shows that children may soon need to be immunised against the disease earlier than thought before, there have been no official changes made to the immunisation schedule. Most health experts agree that children should be vaccinated against MMR as per the routine suggested by the Indian Academy of Pediatrics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that unless a child has an immune issue, they should be vaccinated as per the norm.

Adults can get measles too

While children are more at risk of contracting measles, this does not mean that adults are not susceptible to the disease. Health experts advise that adults who are not vaccinated should consider doing so now, due to the increase in the number of measles cases reported around the world. Data from the WHO shows that as of August 2019, over 180 countries reported over 360,000 cases of measles. This is almost twice the amount seen in the same time frame in 2018.

This is especially for individuals born between 1963 and 1989, who were advised that one dose of the vaccine is enough. The booster dose was introduced into the immunisation program at a later time and due to this, people born in this time are at a slightly higher risk of contracting measles than someone who has never been vaccinated.

Signs, symptoms and things to be on the lookout for

A measles infection might not even be easily distinguishable from any other fever or common cold. A fever, dry cough and cold might be the earliest sign of the disease. White spots with a blue coloured center can also be seen on the lining of the cheek inside the mouth. These spots are called ‘Koplik’s spots’ and can often be seen in individuals who have contracted measles along with a rash. If symptoms do not improve or subside within a week or if the condition worsens from when it first started, medical advice should be sought.