Measles is a virally transmitted respiratory disease that kills several hundred thousand people a year, worldwide. Before the widespread use of the measles vaccine, measles was a common and highly contagious childhood illness. The virus is spread when droplets are sneezed or coughed into the air by an infected individual and inhaled by another person; the newly infected person will typically not show any symptoms until four days after they have contracted the virus. Because measles is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective as a treatment, though there are a number of ways to ease the disease's characteristic set of symptoms.
The earliest symptoms of measles closely resemble those of the common cold. The individual will run a mild fever and have a runny nose, a scratchy, sore throat, and develop a cough. They may also develop conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, and have red, irritated and watering eyes.
After two or three days of the early, cold-like symptoms, the individual will develop characteristic spots known as Koplik's spots on the inner lining of their mouths. These spots are small and white with a blue-hued center. After the development of the Koplik's spots, the mild fever will spike--sometimes as high as 105 degrees--and the itchy red rash most often associated with measles begins to appear, starting on the head and rapidly moving down to cover the body.
Although there are no medications that can treat measles, some can ease the discomfort of the symptoms. The high fever that accompanies the second phase of the illness can be reduced using over-the-counter fever reducers such as Aleve, Tylenol, Advil or Motrin. Often, the measles will be complicated by the development of another condition such as an ear infection or other illness. If the illness is bacterial, this other condition can be treated with antibiotics.
The best way to recover from measles is at home with lots of rest. The infected person should drink plenty of fluids, such as pure juice, water or electrolyte drinks to counteract the body fluid lost from the fever. Because measles can cause the eyes to become painful and sensitive to light, keep the lights lowered. If the sore throat and cough that accompanies the infection become extremely painful or bothersome, using a humidifier in the room may give the person some relief.
The only known cure for measles is that of prevention through inoculation with the measles vaccine, normally administered in the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella. The measles vaccine is extremely effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before the widespread use of the vaccine, more than 3 million cases of measles were reported in the United States each year. Now, there are less than 100 cases each year, and most of these cases are connected to children who have not been inoculated. Although there have been recent concerns that the MMR vaccine is responsible for causing autism, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Health Development, no link between the two has been identified despite extensive research.