Children in the UK are largely protected from measles by the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. However, because babies do not receive their MMR until 13 months, they are at some risk of getting it, so it's worth knowing how to spot the symptoms of measles in babies.
What is it?
Measles is caused by the rubeola virus and is highly contagious, being spread around via coughs and sneezes. Statistics have shown that, despite uptake of the MMR vaccine in children aged two reaching 90 per cent, cases of measles are on the rise. That said, it's still not common and so if your baby or child gets a rash, it is probably something else.
It takes around 10 days for the symptoms of measles to emerge. They include a runny nose, sneezing, red, swollen and watery eyes (often sensitivity to light, too), a fever (which could be very high, over 40°C), small white spots in the mouth and throat, lethargy, aches and pains and a dry cough. The fever might drop away and then return when the rash arrives - usually between two and four days after the appearance of the first symptoms of measles. The red/brown spots often begin behind the ears and on the neck, and then spread out to the body and limbs. They are initially quite small, but become bigger and join together, and will last for up to eight days.
Occasionally, measles can lead to other problems, including diarrhoea and sickness, eye and ear infections, laryngitis and (if the fever is very high) febrile convulsion. Because it is so very contagious, it is also a notifiable disease, meaning that a GP who diagnoses a case of measles must report it to the local health authority so measures can be put in place to stop the spread of infection.
Once a person has had measles, they can not get it again. But it's worth noting that measles can be very dangerous for pregnant women who have had neither the disease or the vaccination - the infection can be passed to their baby, which in turn can cause premature labour, low birth weight and even death.
What can I do?
First things first - do take your child to receive the MMR vaccine when it is offered at 13 months. Claims made back in 1998 about the MMR being linked to autism have been completely discredited and it's really important that children are protected. Having the vaccine will give your child 90-95 per cent protection from the disease.
If your baby is under 13 months and you suspect they might have measles, or if you know they have been exposed to measles, you should go to your GP immediately. Babies over six months of age are likely to be given the MMR. Those below six months, whose mums have not had measles themselves (and therefore passed on antibodies in utero) will be given an injection of antibodies, which will give short-term but immediate protection.
Even if your child is over 13 months and has had the MMR, there is still a very small risk they might catch measles. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can give them to get rid of it – their body will fight off the infection and they will be back to normal in around 10-14 days. You should, however, take them to the GP anyway, who will confirm measles is present.
Several things might help your child feel more comfortable during a bout of measles. Liquid ibuprofen or paracetamol (always check the dosage) will reduce their fever and help with the nasty aches and pains. If they are feeling sensitive to the light, just close the curtains, and regularly wipe their eyes with cotton wool dipped in cooled boiled water.
Because of the high temperature associated with measles, it is absolutely essential that your child keeps up their fluids to avoid dehydration. Your little one is bound to be off their food (and they might even have a tummy ache), but offer lots of drinks - anything they fancy - or ice pops to keep getting that liquid in.
Even though they might be feeling much perkier, your child can remain infectious for up to five days after the last of the rash has gone - so do keep them under lock and key until then!
What else could it be?
If your child has a fever and red spots that seem to be clustered around their mouth, hands and feed, they might have hand, foot and mouth disease.
If your child has a fever and red spots all over their body, including in their mouth and on their scalp, they might have chickenpox.
For more information on measles, visit NHS Choices
More on Parentdish:
Everything you need to know about chickenpox
The Parentdish guide to immunisations
Why I think it's selfish not to immunise your children