Measles is one of the most contagious human diseases. Before the discovery of a vaccine in 1963, it claimed more than 2 million lives and infected some 30 million people each year. Here are some key facts about the disease.
* Measles kills one or two people for every 1,000 who contract the virus.
* There is no specific treatment other than relieving symptoms.
* First symptoms often include fever, coughing, conjunctivitis and general malaise. Two to four days later, a characteristic rash usually appears.
* Patients tend to be contagious from around four days before the appearance of the rash until four days after its eruption.
* Measles is most deadly in children under five. Children who are malnourished, deficient in vitamin A or who have immunological disorders such as HIV/AIDS are most vulnerable.
* Common complications include pneumonia, diarrhoea, otitis and croup.
* In rare cases, measles can cause swelling of the brain, which can leave children deaf or mentally disabled.
* The World Health Organization recommends that children be vaccinated twice. The timing of doses varies by country but the first is usually done at 12 months.
* If a population is widely vaccinated, measles has a much harder time spreading, meaning that even people who have not been vaccinated gain protection because the virus is not circulating in the community. This is known as herd immunity.
Sources: WHO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, Centre for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases in Romania.
Photo: © Tudor Vintiloiu