Diagnosis and treatment of measles
How is measles diagnosed?
Should you feel as though you may have been infected or are showing signs of measles, it is best to immediately seek the opinion of a medical professional.
Measles is typically diagnosed when your doctor examines your skin rash, checks for signs of Koplik’s spots in your mouth (little white spots on your cheeks), and also checks for a hacking cough, sore throat and fever. If your symptoms are unable to give a clear diagnosis, your doctor may also conduct a blood test (obtain a small blood sample to send to the lab for testing) in order to confirm the diagnosis.
The diagnosis can also be confirmed by testing a throat swab (viral culture) or urine test, known as a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). Measles is a notifiable disease, therefore, it is preferred if the diagnosis is confirmed with testing.
Sometimes your rash may be the result of something else and can be difficult to diagnose, regardless, you should always seek a diagnosis from your doctor.
How do you treat measles?
There is no specific treatment for measles, however, there are certain precautions and measures that are able to be taken by those who are more vulnerable (weak immune system) or have had exposure to the virus:
- People who have not been vaccinated, as well as children, can be vaccinated within the first 72 hours after exposure. If the infection still develops, it often results in much milder symptoms than if the patient had not been vaccinated. This is known as post-exposure vaccination.
- Infants, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system, who have been exposed to measles, may be able to get an injection known as immune serum globulin, which contains antibodies (proteins). This is administered within six days after initial exposure and may prevent measles being contracted or lessen the symptoms.
If the measles virus has been contracted, there are a variety of medications that your doctor may prescribe, these include:
- Antibiotics are used if a secondary bacterial infection has been contracted after being infected with measles, such as ear infection or pneumonia. Measles, being a virus, cannot be treated by antibiotics as these will have no effect on the infection.
- As discussed earlier, people with a vitamin A deficiency may be at higher risk for contracting measles or their symptoms may be worsened. Your doctor may prescribe a dose of 200,000 UI (international units) taken over two days.
- Over-the-counter fever reducers are also available, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. However, speak to your pharmacist about these as caution must be taken when giving aspirin to your child or teenager who has a viral infection.
There are also a number of home-remedy solutions. These should only be carried out once your doctor has diagnosed you or your child with measles, and it is important to keep in touch with your doctor regarding your symptoms and progress. These include:
- Getting plenty of rest and avoiding physical activities that may exhaust you.
- Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of fluids to replace fluids lost through sweating and fever. These include water and fruit juice - you should be drinking six to eight glasses of water a day.
- Using a humidifier in your room to help you to breathe easily and soothe your sore throat and cough.
- Trying to rest your eyes and avoid bright light as it may be bothersome. Avoid watching too much television and wear sunglasses when exposed to sunlight.