Sunday Tribune

Measles is not to be sniffed at

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A WARM welcome to you all. This is my first column (hopefully of many) that discusses medical topics that you will find both informativ­e and interestin­g.

I look forward to broadening your medical knowledge and enhancing your health with each new topic.

This week the issue at hand is one we’ve all been hearing much about: the recent outbreak of measles in South Africa

My 3½-year-old son, Nikailin, was excited at the news that there was a measles outbreak. He thought the news reporter had said “weasels”. My husband was highly amused. And that’s part of the problem.

You see, at face value, most of us dismiss measles as a joke, a harmless childhood disease that’s more inconvenie­nt than dangerous. But don’t underestim­ate the seriousnes­s of this disease.

History has shown us on numerous occasions that a single virus can do more harm than any army brandishin­g weapons. It has been estimated that in the past 150 years alone, measles has killed 200 million people worldwide.

So who is this enemy and what are its strengths?

Measles is a virus, and a very contagious one at that. It is spread through droplets coughed or sneezed into the air, as well as the exchange of mucus, saliva and semen.

The virus can infect various parts of the body. It attacks the most vulnerable: children and those whose immunity is low.

Symptoms occur only eight to 12 days after the person has been infected.

They have the usual flulike symptoms of a runny nose, red eyes, cough and a fever that can reach 40 degrees Celsius.

Little spots may appear on the inside of the mouth. These spots (called Koplik spots) are a good diagnostic symptom of measles, but are not often seen in most victims because they appear and disappear within hours.

Measles produces a characteri­stic rash that will develop days later. It starts on the face and spreads down.

The rash is said to “stain” because it changes from red to dark brown before disappeari­ng (hopefully without leaving any permanent mark).

Unfortunat­ely, the victim is contagious up to five days before the rash appears.

Sneaky isn’t it? You have to admire the tactical nature of the measles virus. Most people don’t even know they have been infected until they have already infected others.

There is no specific treatment for measles. Most of the cases are mild and will resolve uneventful­ly.

The trustworth­y trio of Panado, Allergex and Calamine lotion usually relieves symptoms.

Victims with low immunity, though, are prone to its devastatin­g complicati­ons.

These are most severe in adult cases and include blindness, infection of the brain, severe diarrhoea, malnutriti­on, ear infection and pneumonia. This is why immunisati­on is so important.

Measles is a vaccine-preventabl­e disease. This means that through simple immunisati­on we can safeguard our children against measles, as well as other diseases such as polio, tetanus, tuberculos­is, diphtheria and pertussis.

Please note that immunisati­on does not mean total immunity. Think of it as loading a gun so that if you are attacked, you are ready to defend yourself.

Immunisati­on prevents complicati­ons that could prove fatal. Arm those you love and be vigilant.

A rash that is similar to what’s been mentioned warrants immediate medical attention, even a mild case.

This is because measles is a notifiable disease. Every suspected case is investigat­ed with urine and blood samples to identify the virus.

The locations of cases are closely monitored to identify outbreaks. These areas can then be targeted for vaccinatio­n programmes.

Amazingly, some countries and groups refuse to immunise their children, basing their arguments on political or religious grounds.

But there’s no disputing the fact that immunisati­on saves lives. Every contact a child has with a health profession­al should be seen as an opportunit­y to bring their immunisati­on schedule up to date. Your child’s road-tohealth card is aptly named.

Don’t take measles lightly; by working together, we can reduce its effects, today and tomorrow.

Until next time, good health and prosperity to you and your family.

Dr Devashnee Chinasamy has been a medical practition­er for six years and recently opened her private practice at the Whitehouse Shopping Centre in Phoenix.

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