Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease caused by a virus which is spread by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.
Since 2001 more than 750 million children have been vaccinated in Africa against measles through supplemental mass vaccination campaigns.
Measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Complications include severe diarrhea and related dehydration, severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia, blindness, encephalitis i.e. an infection that causes brain swelling.
First sign of measles is usually a high fever which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus and lasts 4 to 7 days. A runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.
After several days a rash erupts usually on the face and upper neck, over about 3 days the rash spreads eventually reaching the hands and feet.
Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children especially those with insufficient vitamin A or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases. In populations with high levels of malnutrition and a lack of adequate health care, up to 10% of measles cases result in deaths.
Severe complications from measles can be avoided through supportive care that ensures good nutrition, adequate fluid intake, vitamin A supplementation and treatment of diarrhea with WHO-recommended oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc. This solution replaces fluids and other essential elements that are lost through diarrhea and vomiting. Antibiotics should be prescribed to treat eye and ear infections and also pneumonia.
WHO recommends reaching all children with two doses of measles vaccine as the standard for all national immunization programmes. In countries with ongoing measles transmission the first dose of measles vaccine should be administered at 9 months of age and the second between 15-18 months of age.