Measles explained: What’s behind the outbreaks?


MEASLES cases are reaching alarming rates across the world.
According to the latest estimates, measles cases more than doubled from 2019.
Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of getting measles and suffering complications, including death.
So what is measles? And why is it making a comeback? Here’s everything you need to know:

What is measles?
Measles is a viral infection of the nose, throat and lungs that spreads when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes.

What are the symptoms of measles?
Measles symptoms usually appear 10–12 days after infection. The virus causes fever and a distinctive rash that starts on the face and spreads over the whole body.
Severe complications include blindness, encephalitis (brain swelling) and death.

How contagious is measles?
Measles is more contagious than Ebola, and lingers in the air and on surfaces for long periods of time. You can catch measles simply by being in the same room as someone infected with measles, even two hours after the person left.

How is measles treated?
There are no specific treatments for measles, only measures to help alleviate the symptoms (such as over-the-counter painkillers and fever reducers). Getting the measles vaccine is the best way to protect against the virus.

The outbreaks
 Where are measles outbreaks happening?
Outbreaks are happening all over the world.
What’s causing the outbreaks?
In a few words: lowered immunization rates. Because measles is so contagious, a large proportion of the population (95 per cent) needs to be vaccinated to help stop the spread of the disease. Outbreaks occur when vaccination rates dip below this level. This is happening for several reasons, and usually a combination of many factors, including:

  • Poor health services – Countries or areas that have fewer resources overall are more likely to suffer measles outbreaks. In these cases, the cause of an outbreak can be as simple as parents not living near doctors or health centres that offer the vaccine. More than 95 per cent of deaths from measles are in low income countries with weak health infrastructures.
  • Civil strife – Countries in the midst of conflict or natural disasters often see spikes in infection rates. When hospitals and health facilities are damaged or destroyed, and when health workers are unable to do their jobs, it interrupts routine vaccination services.
  • Low awareness – Knowledge and communication are essential tools for eradicating diseases. The measles vaccine is extremely safe and effective, and has prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths from 2000–2018. But some parents need more information on when, where, how and why their child should be vaccinated.

Today, measles anywhere is a risk everywhere.
Vaccines are the best way to protect our children and communities from this highly contagious disease.