Measles, also called rubeola, is a serious respiratory illness caused by a virus. It lives in the mucous of the nose and throat and is highly contagious. Measles is spread through the air by coughs and sneezes, or by touching a surface where the virus landed. You can contract the virus by breathing it in or by touching a contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. The measles virus can remain in the air for up to two hours after a person with measles has been in the area.
In 2019, measles outbreaks have occurred in Texas, Washington state and New York. Additional states of Colorado, California and four other states have reported measles cases. A person of any age can get measles, but it is more severe in young children and those who are unable to fight off infections.
Fever is one of the earliest symptoms and can reach as high as 104°F. The fever can last for about a week with coughing, runny nose and redness of the eyes also occurring. A red blotchy rash will generally appear three to five days later, starting on the face and then spreading over the entire body. Small white spots may also be seen on the gums and on the cheeks inside the mouth.
There is no specific treatment for measles except to focus on relief of symptoms as the body fights the virus. Because measles is a virus, antibiotics are not effective against it, but may be used to treat other infections caused by bacteria such as ear infections and pneumonia.
Making sure your vaccinations are up to date is the best way to prevent measles. If you have not received a measles vaccine and you come into contact with an infected person, receiving a MMR vaccination within 72 hours after exposure may be effective in preventing infection. See your healthcare provider if you are exposed to measles or have questions on vaccines.
Jeri Culbertson, RN, BSN, CIC is director of infection control at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. The advice offered in this column is that of the author.