Understanding Measles

Measles is a disease caused by a virus called paramyxovirus.  It is unrelated to "German measles," which is caused by the rubella virus.  Measles spreads through the air, contacting fluids from infected people who have coughed or sneezed, making it a highly-contagious disease.

What is measles?

Measles has been around since ancient times.  The first reports of the disease go back to at least 600 B.C.  However, the first scientific description of measles and its distinction from smallpox is attributed to the Ibn Razi, a physician in ancient Persia, who published a book entitled "The Book of Smallpox and Measles." 

For the past 150 years, measles is estimated to have killed about 200 million people around the world.  Nowadays, 21 strains of the measles virus have been identified, while vaccines to prevent the disease have been available since 1963.

Symptoms of measles

Common symptoms of measles include fever that lasts for at least three days, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (red eye).  Fever may reach up to 40 degrees Celsius (or 104 degrees Fahrenheit).  Red spots can also be seen inside the mouth, but it may disappear within a day after appearing and is often unseen by physicians even in real cases of measles.

The most obvious symptom of measles is the reddish rash that also contains bumps and spots on the skins.  This rash begins several days after the fever manifests, appearing first on the head before spreading to cover most of the body.  It often causes itching.

How to treat measles?

Measles is usually treatable by bed rest and supportive treatment such as drinking more fluids and sponge baths.  However, some patients may develop pneumonia as a result of measles.