According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 2.6 million children die across the world annually from the disease; because they are not vaccinated against it. Measles is a childhood infection caused by a virus. Once quite common, measles can now almost always be prevented with a vaccine. Also called rubeola, measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. While death rates have been falling worldwide as more children receive the measles vaccine, the disease still kills more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of 5.
This year’s World Immunization Week campaign’s theme was ‘Protected Together, #VaccinesWork’. This week is a global public health campaign that aims to raise awareness and increase rates of immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases around the world. Recently, the week was observed in Pakistan, where the Sindh Government Children Hospital (SGCH) organised a two-day free measles camp and a public awareness seminar in collaboration with Pakistan Pediatric Association Sindh (PPAS) and World Health Organization (WHO). The seminar was addressed by Director of National Institute of Child Health (NICH) and President of PPAS, Syed Jamal Raza; General Secretary PPAS, Dr. Khalid Shafi; Chairperson of Pakistan Pediatric Association, Karachi Chapter, Dr. Jameel Akhter; Additional Deputy Commissioner, District Central, Zulfiqar Khushk; Deputy Director Health, Karachi of WHO Sindh, Dr. Fakhar Naseeb; Provisional Surveillance Officer, Dr. Shabbir Ahmed and International Consultant of WHO, Dr. Fahad Shamshan. From SGCH, Medical Superintendent, Dr. Manzoor Ahmed Memon; Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Fatima Mohbat Ali; Deputy Medical Superintendent, Dr. Kouser Fatima; Dr. Neel Kanth and Dr. Khalid Zuberi were also present at the occasion.
Addressing the seminar, the medical experts talked about measles being infectious but at the same time being very preventable. They said that measles does not kill a child but following the viral infection, the child is infected with other viral and bacterial infections, especially pneumonia, which often results in death if not properly treated at a well-equipped hospital.
Measles is caused by infection with the rubeola virus that replicates in the mucus of the nose and throat of an infected child or adult. As soon as the virus enters the body, it multiplies in the back of the throat, lungs, and the lymphatic system. It later infects and replicates in the urinary tract, eyes, blood vessels, and central nervous system. The disease is contagious for 4 days before a rash appears, and it continues to be contagious for about 4 to 5 days after. When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where other people can inhale them. The infected droplets may also land on a surface, where they remain active for 2 hours. You can contract the virus by putting your fingers in your mouth or nose or rubbing your eyes after touching the infected surface.
The symptoms for measles start to appear after 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus and it almost always includes a fever. Other symptoms include dry cough, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), blotchy skin rash, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and Koplik’s spots (very small grayish-white spots with bluish-white centers in the mouth, insides of cheeks, and throat).
People who have already had measles are normally immune and they are unlikely to get it again. People who do not have enough vitamin A in their diet (especially pregnant women) are likely to contract measles with severe symptoms. However, if someone in your household has measles, take these precautions to protect vulnerable family and friends.
Isolation: Measles is highly contagious from about four days before the rash breaks out and four days after. During this time, it is important to keep the affected person away from non-immunised people. They should not return to activities that requires interaction with other people for only this period.
Vaccination: Those who haven’t yet been vaccinated are always at a risk of contracting measles. The best way is to get a vaccination as soon as possible including infants older than 6 months. Also, to prevent outbreaks, especially in Pakistan, it is important that programmes should be launched nationwide to educate parents about the measles vaccination for children to reduce the measles case fatality rate; like it has been done for polio.