WITH reports this week that Newport and Torfaen are experiencing an outbreak of measles, Dr Vijay Anand, GP at St Joseph’s Hospital in Newport, shares his expert advice on the illness and what to do if you think your child may have it.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious airborne illness that is spread from person to person through coughs and sneezes. It is most common in children, but anyone can catch measles if they haven’t been vaccinated or had the illness before. The effectiveness of the MMR vaccine means that the illness is less common now in the UK than it once was thanks to widespread vaccination, but the number of cases has increased in recent years and parents should be aware of how to spot the signs and symptoms in their children.

How can I tell if my child has measles?

In most cases, people with measles will develop some initial symptoms before the distinctive rash appears.

These include cold-like symptoms (such as sneezing, coughing and a runny nose), fever, sore eyes that are sensitive to light and small grey spots on the inside of the mouth.

A few days after these initial symptoms a blotchy rash of small red-brown spots will develop, usually beginning on the head or neck and then spreading to the rest of the body.

In most cases the infection will clear with no complications in around 7 to 10 days, but can result in serious illness in some people so it is important to monitor children with the illness closely and seek medical help if you become concerned.

What should I do if I think my child has measles?

If you suspect that your child might have measles you should phone your GP to notify them as soon as possible and arrange a visit. Do not take your child to your GP or to A&E without phoning ahead beforehand as steps may need to be taken to reduce the risk of them infecting anyone else. Children with measles should be kept out of school for at least four days from when the rash first appears to reduce the risk of spreading the infection and should be kept away from individuals most at risk from complications from measles including young children and pregnant women.

How can I make my child more comfortable?

If your child has measles, you can relieve the symptoms using paracetamol, ibuprofen or liquid infant paracetamol for young children. They should drink plenty of fluids to ensure they don’t become dehydrated and damp cotton wool can be used to soothe irritated and sore eyes, which is a common symptom.

When should I be worried?

In some cases, measles can result in hospitalisation. Possible complications from the illness affecting around 1 in 15 children include dehydration, ear and eye infections, fits caused by the fever, pneumonia and meningitis. You should call an ambulance immediately if you or your child is experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion or drowsiness.

How can I prevent my child from catching measles?

The best way to protect against measles is to make sure your child is up to date with their MMR vaccinations. Unless they have received two MMR jabs they will not be fully vaccinated against measles and will still be vulnerable to catching the illness.

The first MMR vaccination is administered at 12-13 months and the second is usually given at 3 years 4 months before children start school, but adults and older children can be vaccinated at any age if they haven’t been fully vaccinated before.

If 95% of the population was fully vaccinated against measles everyone would be protected from the illness, but unfortunately not everyone understands the importance of the vaccine and many people don’t realise that the MMR is completely safe.

This has led to a decrease in the number of people who are fully vaccinated against the illness which is probably the cause of the recent increase in cases.

For more information, contact your local GP or health provider.