What are the Most Common Signs of Measles in Children?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2020
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Measles in children is a viral disease that's considered highly contagious. Measles can be deadly in some children, and can cause serious and long-term health problems. The first symptom of measles in children is usually the appearance of Koplik's spots in the mouth, which are often used to give a definitive diagnosis of measles. The later symptoms of measles in children generally include a distinctive rash, cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis, irritability, and fever. Measles is usually preventable by vaccination, and most people in the industrialized world have been immunized, but measles is still considered a health risk in less developed countries, where it can be quite common among young children.

Symptoms of measles infection in children usually don't appear until at least ten days after exposure to the measles virus. Koplik's spots are usually the first symptom to appear, and many doctors use the appearance of Koplik's spots as a diagnostic tool. Koplik's spots consist of small, white lesions on the interior of the mouth, appearing first on the lower cheeks and then spreading to the cover the inside cheeks and inside lower lip.

The other symptoms of measles infection are often quite similar to those of a common cold. Children with measles typically experience a high fever of about 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.5 C). Fever is often accompanied by nasal discharge, fatigue, conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eyes, and a severe cough. These symptoms usually last for about four days after the commencement of the disease process.

Following this four-day period, the distinctive measles rash typically appears. Children with measles will generally still be experiencing a high fever when the rash begins to appear. Spots may appear on the skin at first, but these spots usually blend together into one combined rash. The measles rash normally appears first along the hairline and near the ears, and then typically spreads to the face, neck, torso, arms, buttocks, and legs.

The typical measles rash always begins in the same place and spreads in the same sequential order until it covers the whole body. Children may experience skin peeling during the final stages of recovery from measles infection.

Children suffering from the measles generally benefit from bed rest and high fluid intake. Ibuprofen or paracetamol may be administered to control high fever. Patients older than age six may be safely given cough suppressants to relieve the respiratory symptoms of measles. The symptoms of measles in children can include sensitivity to light, so darkening the sick room can help relieve eye pain in children suffering measles.

Vaccinations can offer immunity from measles, but the disease is still common among children in less-developed regions, where vaccines may not be available. Most children are immune to measles once they have recovered from the disease. About 10% of children infected with measles die from the disease. The long-term health consequences of measles infection can include blindness, encephalitis, brain damage, and pneumonia.


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