Measles, mumps and rubella are three distinct viral diseases. All three were once common childhood afflictions that often resulted in death in extremely young or immune-compromised individuals. The widespread use of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has greatly decreased the number of cases of all three diseases, although the conditions are still a problem in developing countries and among children who have not been innoculated. Each condition results in a characteristic set of signs and symptoms, and anyone displaying these symptoms should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
Measles, mumps and rubella are all transmitted from person to person through inhaled or ingested droplets in the air or through contact with the saliva of an infected person. All three can also be contracted if the infected individual leaves the virus on a surface and another person touches the surface and the virus is introduced into the eyes, nose or mouth. Because all three are viral diseases, antibiotics are ineffective; the only treatments available are those that can diminish the discomfort of the symptoms.
Measles infection is characterized by two phases of symptoms. The first phase lasts approximately three to four days and consists of flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, persistent cough, runny nose, pink eye (also known as conjunctivitis) and a moderate fever. The second phase begins with the development of spots within the mouth known as Koplik's spots. These spots appear whitish with a bluish center. Shortly after the development of the spots, the fever will spike up to as high as 104 degrees and a flat, red, itchy rash will develop all over the body.
Mumps are mainly characterized by the swelling of the salivary glands. Symptoms typically occur in individuals several weeks after being exposed to the mumps virus, and include a moderate fever, unusual fatigue, painful swallowing and mouth movement, and the swelling of the salivary glands on both sides of the face.
Rubella, also known as German measles, has symptoms that resemble those of normal measles; however, the two are caused by different viruses. If a pregnant woman develops rubella, the unborn fetus is at risk of developing a serious birth defect. Rubella symptoms can be extremely mild and can last as little as three days. These symptoms include those similar to a flu or the common cold: a mild fever, runny nose, headaches, achy joints, sensitive eyes and swollen lymph nodes. The most distinguishing symptom is a skin rash that develops first on the face, then spreads down the body.
In rare cases, all three of these viral diseases can be complicated by other factors that cause them to be fatal, particularly in young children. Seek medical help promptly if you suspect anyone is displaying the symptoms of measles, mumps or rubella. It is also extremely important for pregnant women to be certain that they have been vaccinated against the three conditions -- particularly rubella -- since exposure of an unvaccinated woman during pregnancy can cause irreparable damage to the unborn child.