Measles is a very serious respiratory virus that is considered one of the “standard childhood diseases”. Measles is highly contagious; in fact, in the pre-20th century world, measles outbreaks often grew into epidemics. However, thanks to modern medicine, measles is no longer a serious threat. There is practically no possibility of measles causing an epidemic; except, perhaps, in third world countries.
Although measles usually affects children below the age of 9, older children as well as adults can also contract the illness. Young children have a better chance of surviving the virus without complications than adults do. Adults, particularly pregnant mothers, who contract the measles should seek medical help immediately.
There are two different types of measles: rubeola and rubella. Although the symptoms of these two illnesses are very similar, they are caused by two separate viruses.
The most common type of measles is caused by the rubeola virus. This virus is also known as“red” or “hard” measles. A person with rubeola will experience flu-like symptoms, followed by a red, itchy rash. The symptoms of the rubeola virus usually last for 14 days or longer.
Symptoms of the Rubeola Virus
After a person has been infected by the rubeola virus, it will usually take 1 to 2 weeks before he or she starts showing any symptoms. This period is called the “incubation period”. After the incubation period, the person will start to experience flu-like symptoms. He or she will have a sore throat, a runny nose, and itchy, red eyes, also known as conjunctivas. The person will also experience intestinal problems, a severe cough, and his or her lymph nodes will very likely swell. Also, the rubeola virus often causes a fever of 103-degrees Fahrenheit.
As the flu-like symptoms disappear, the person will begin developing measles rash. The person will first develop a few red spots on the inside of his or her mouth; the rash will eventually spread all across the person’s body. Before the rash disappears, it will turn from red to brown. It will often take 2 weeks for a person with rubeola to fully recover.
Although measles rash is not as unpleasant as the rash associated with chickenpox, it is still very uncomfortable and can cause itching and other discomfort.
The rubeola virus most often affects young children.
Measles caused by the rubella virus are often referred to as “German” or “three-day” measles. Although the symptoms of the two viruses are almost identical, rubella usually lasts only for a few days. However, those with the rubella virus are much more likely to develop secondary complications than those with the rubeola virus.
Symptoms of the Rubella Virus
The incubation period of the rubella virus can last from 2 to 3 weeks. The first symptoms of rubella are almost identical to those of rubeola. However, a person with rubella will begin developing a rash much more quickly. The rash will begin on the person’s face and then will spread across his or her body. The rash caused by the rubella virus will often disappear after 3 days, hence the nickname “three-day measles”. Rubella also causes a high fever, although it will rarely rise above 100-degrees Fahrenheit.
Children of all ages as well as adults can be affected by the rubella virus. However, a person with rubella is much more likely to develop secondary complications than a person with rubeola. Pregnant mothers are particularly as risk (see CRS in “Risk Factors”).
Both types of measles are caused by being exposed to a person infected with the virus. Since the virus can be airborne, it can spread even when an infected person is not in close contact with others. A person with the measles is contagious for about 4 days before and after the rash first appears.
Although measles is a serious illness, it will often run its course without causing any serious complications. Infected children will most likely survive the virus very easily. Adults are at a higher risk of developing complications. Secondary complications of measles can include pneumonia, bronchitis, or other lung conditions; in rare cases, measles can cause encephalitis and/or meningitis. There is also a possibility of sensory impairment such as loss of sight or hearing.
One possible complication of the rubella virus is congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). CRS occurs when a
pregnant mother passes the rubella virus to her unborn child. The virus can cause serious birth defects such as brain damage, heart defects, or sensory impairment. Congenital rubella syndrome also increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.
Both the rubeola and the rubella viruses are considered detrimental to those infected with HIV.
Measles rash rarely causes scarring. If minor blemishes remain after the rash disappears, they can usually be lightened by cocoa butter or vitamin E oil.
The best way to avoid the measles is to be vaccinated with an MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) shot. Because the vaccine is made up of live attenuated viruses, the person vaccinated will experience some unpleasant symptoms. However, the vaccine will keep the person from ever being infected by any of the three viruses. The vaccine is most often given to children, ages 18 months to 1 year. If one shot does not provide sufficient protection, the child will be vaccinated again around age 4. Medical doctors can perform blood tests that will determine a person’s immunity.
The MMR vaccine has been surrounded by controversy for years. Many parents have been concerned that the vaccine could increase their children’s chances of developing autism. However, recent studies have proven that there is absolutely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Although the MMR vaccine is most often given to young children, it can be given to adults; it is particularly recommended for adults infected with HIV.
Although a person infected with a measles virus does not need to be quarantined, he or she should not mingle with the general public. Infected children should not attend school or other group activities until the virus is past the contagious stage. Infected adults should stay home from work. A person who has been vaccinated properly will never catch the measles; also, if an unvaccinated person survives the illness, he or she will never become infected again.
Viruses, including those that cause measles, do not respond to antibiotics. Therefore, it is impossible to “cure” measles. Some of the symptoms of measles can be alleviated, both by natural and by chemical and/or pharmaceutical means. However, the most important element in treating the measles is to lower the fever before it causes secondary complications and/or physical damage.
Natural and/or Home Remedies
White Willow Bark
White willow bark was used in the ancient world to lower fevers. It contains salicin, which is very similar to aspirin. However, white willow bark must be taken properly in order to be effective. It should never be taken without the guidance of a medical professional. White willow bark is not recommended for children.
Vitamin B Complex
B vitamins are always useful for fighting infections and boosting the immune system. If a person with the measles takes large doses of B vitamins daily, the duration of the illness will very likely be shortened and the risk of complications lowered. Adults should take approximately 300 mg of B vitamins per day. A medical professional should be consulted before B vitamins are administered to children.
Large doses of vitamin C will help boost the immune system and control fevers. Also, since it can fight infections, it can help keep complications from developing. A person infected with a measles virus should take 3,000 to 10,000 mg per day. Small children should take a slightly smaller dose. Vitamin C can cause temporary intestinal problems.
200-800 IU per day of vitamin E can help boost the immune system and promote tissue repair. Small children should never be given more than 200 IU per day. Also, topically applied vitamin E oil can help sooth measles rash.
Lanolin will help sooth measles rash. Lanolin should not cause any adverse effects unless the person is allergic to it. Also, when treating measles rash, it is advisable to use pure lanolin. Lanolin mixed with preservatives and/or other chemicals may cause further skin irritation.
Oatmeal baths are a traditional way to sooth rashes from measles and other viruses. Add 1 cup of dried oatmeal to a warm bath or create an oatmeal mixture and apply it directly to the irritated spot. Adding soothing herbs such as mint, licorice, or chamomile can also be helpful; just make sure not to add anything that might cause an allergic reaction. Special bath mixtures can be made at home or purchased ready-made at most health and wellness stores.
Chamomile tea can help relieve coughs and sore throats. The herb also has a calming effect and can help induce sleep. It is also very soothing to the skin and can be used for baths or topical rubs. Caution should be used, however, because some people are allergic to this herb.
Homeopathic remedies are some of the best ways to treat the symptoms of both measles viruses. If taken properly and under the guidance of a homeopath or other qualified professional, these remedies should not have any adverse effects. Homeopathic remedies are perfectly safe for children of all ages.
Belladonna is particularly helpful for controlling high fevers. It will even help if the fever is causing sweating, delirium, or convulsions. Belladonna also relieves most flu-like symptoms.
Aconite is only effective if given at the first sign of symptoms. It is also much more effective in treating children than adults. Aconite will help control fevers and will relieve sore throats and runny noses.
Gelsemium will relieve flu-like symptoms and will help control the measles rash. In order to be effective, the remedy must be given at the first sign of red spots. Gelsemium is not the best homeopathic remedy for controlling fevers.
Sulphur primarily treats measles rash. It can also fight infections and will, therefore, help keep secondary complications, such as ear or lung infections, from forming.
Morbillinum treats nearly every symptom of the measles. It also helps keep secondary complications from developing. However, Morbillium is not very effective for treating extremely high fevers.
Pulsatilla can help sore throats and runny noses and will also help slow down the development of measles rash.
Rhus toxicondendron can help lower high fevers and will also sooth measles rash. This remedy is useful during all stages of the measles.
Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Other Fever Reducers
Traditional pharmaceuticals such as Tylenol and ibuprofen are highly recommended to help reduce fevers. If the dosage instructions are followed carefully, there will be absolutely no risk of adverse effects. Aspirin can also be used, but only by adults. Children and those under the age of 19 who take aspirin while infected with a virus run the risk of contracting the potentially life threatening disease Reye’s syndrome.