Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and one of the leading causes of death among young children.
In 2014, MSF treated 33,700 people for measles and vaccinated 1,513,700 people in response to outbreaks.
Measles: Latest MSF Updates
- Democratic Republic of Congo: Katanga Measles Epidemic Keeps Worsening
- DRC: "Every Day We Discover New Deaths from Measles"
- MSF Vaccinates 42,000 Children Against Measles in DRC
While global measles deaths have decreased by 75 percent worldwide in recent years—from 542,000 in 2000 to 145,700 in 2013 (according to the World Health Organization)—measles is still common in many developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia, and is one of the leading causes of death among young children. A safe and effective vaccine has existed since the 1960s but outbreaks still occur due to ineffective or insufficient immunization programs.
Severe measles is more likely among malnourished children under five years of age. Those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases are especially likely to contract the virus.
What Causes Measles?
Measles is caused by the highly contagious measles virus. It is so contagious that 90 percent of people without immunity who share living spaces with an infected person will catch it. Measles is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of infected people by coughing, sneezing, and breathing.
Symptoms of Measles
Symptoms appear between 10 and 12 days after exposure to the virus and include a runny nose, cough, eye infection, rash, and high fever.
Clinical diagnosis of measles requires a history of fever of at least three days, with at least one of the three ‘C’s (cough, catarrh, conjunctivitis) present. Clusters of tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth, known as Koplik spots, are also a sign of measles. These usually occur two days before the outbreak of the measles rash itself.
There is no specific treatment for measles—patients are isolated and treated for a lack of vitamin A, eye-related complications, ear infection, stomatitis (mouth ulcers), dehydration through diarrhea or vomiting, protein deficiencies, and respiratory tract infections.
Most people recover within two to three weeks, but between five and 20 percent of people infected with measles die, usually because of severe complications such as diarrhea, dehydration, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), or respiratory infections. Such severe complications are more common in children under the age of five.
A safe and cost-effective vaccine against measles exists, and large-scale vaccination campaigns have drastically decreased the number of cases and deaths from measles. However, coverage remains low in countries with weak health structures and among people with limited access to health services. Large outbreaks still occur.
Vaccination is the best form of protection against measles and even after the disease has begun to spread it can still reduce the number of cases and deaths. The difficulty lies in the fact that at least 95 percent of people need to be immune to prevent new outbreaks. Measles vaccinations prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths between 2000 and 2013.
In 2014, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treated 33,700 people for measles and vaccinated 1,513,700 people in response to outbreaks.
This page was last updated on September 23, 2015.
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