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     Volume 5 Issue 85 | March 10, 2006 |

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Is your child protected from measles?

Measles, also called rubeola, is a highly contagious - but rare - respiratory infection that's caused by a virus. It causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough and runny nose.

Since measles is caused by a virus, symptoms typically go away on their own without medical treatment, once the virus has run its course. But while your child is sick, it's important to make sure that he or she has plenty of fluids and rest, and does not spread the infection to others. If you have any concerns about your child's condition, talk to your child's doctor.

Signs and Symptoms
While measles is probably best known for the full-body rash that it causes, the first symptoms of the infection are usually a hacking cough, runny nose, high fever and watery red eyes. Another marker of measles are Koplik's spots, small red spots with blue-white centers that appear inside the mouth.

The measles rash typically has a red or reddish brown blotchy appearance, and first usually shows up on the forehead, then spreads downward over the face, neck, and body, then down to the feet.

Measles is highly contagious. When someone with measles sneezes or coughs, he or she can spread virus droplets through the air and infect others.

The most important thing you can do to protect your child from measles is to have him or her vaccinated according to the schedule prescribed by a doctor.

Infants are generally protected from measles for 6 to 8 months after birth due to immunity passed on from their mothers. Older kids are usually immunised against measles according to state and school health regulations.

For most kids, the measles vaccine is part of the measles-mumps-rubella immunisations (MMR) given at 12 to 15 months of age and again at 4 to 6 years of age. Measles vaccine is not usually given to infants younger than 12 months old. But if there's a measles outbreak, the vaccine may be given when a child is 9 months old, followed by the usual MMR immunisation at 12-15 months.

As is the case with all immunisation schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. Your child's doctor should have the most current information regarding recommendations about the measles immunisation. Measles vaccine should not be given to pregnant women, or to kids with active tuberculosis, leukaemia, lymphoma or people whose immune systems are suppressed for some reason.

Also, the vaccine shouldn't be given to kids who have a history of severe allergic reaction to gelatine or to the antibiotic neobycin, as they are at risk for serious reactions to the vaccine. These kids can be protected from measles infection with an injection of antibodies called gamma globulin if it's given within 6 days of exposure - these antibodies can either prevent measles or make the symptoms less severe.

Measles vaccine occasionally causes side effects in kids who don't have any underlying health problems. In about 10% of cases the measles vaccine causes a fever 5 and 12 days after vaccination, and in about 5% of cases the vaccine causes a rash, which isn't contagious and usually fades on its own.

The symptoms of measles usually lasts for about two weeks. It is highly contagious and 90% of people who haven't been vaccinated for measles will get it if they live in the same household as an infected person.

If your child has been diagnosed with measles, it's important to closely monitor him or her for fever and other symptoms to spot any complications. In some cases, measles can lead to other health problems, such as croup, and infections like bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, conjunctivitis (pinkeye), myocarditis, and encephalitis. Measles also can make the body more susceptible to ear infections or other health problems caused by bacteria.

If fever is making your child more uncomfortable, you may want to give a non-aspirin fever medication. Remember, you should never give aspirin to a child who has a viral illness since the use of aspirin in such cases has been associated with the development of Reye syndrome.

As with any viral infection, encourage your child to drink clear fluids: water, fruit juice, tea and lemonade. These will help replace bodily fluids your child loses in the heat and sweating of fever episodes.

Use a cool-mist vaporiser to relieve cough and to soothe breathing passages. Clean the vaporiser each day to prevent mould from growing. Avoid hot water or steam vaporisers that can cause accidental burns and scalds in children.

Children with measles should get extra rest to help them recover. It's usually safe for your child to return to school 7 to 10 days after the fever and rash goes away. But to be sure, check with your child's doctor.

When to Call Your Child's Doctor
Call your child's doctor immediately if you suspect that your child has measles. Also, it's important to get medical care if your child:
* is an infant and has been exposed to measles
* is taking medicines that depress the immune system
* has tuberculosis, cancer or a disease that affects the immune system

Keep track of your child's temperature. Let the doctor know if your child has an earache, since this may be a sign of an infection. Remember that measles is very rare, and if your child is properly vaccinated it's extremely unlikely that he or she will contract the disease.



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