Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that affects an individual's respiratory system and skin. Measles spreads when an individual who is unvaccinated breathes in or makes contact with contaminated particles or surfaces. An individual who has been exposed to measles will begin to show symptoms between seven and fourteen days following their exposure. This infection can be spread during the four days prior to the rash manifestation until four days after the rash starts. Certain individuals who have compromised immune systems such as those who have HIV are contagious for a longer period when infected with measles. While there is a vaccine available to prevent measles, there is no cure for the infection. Treatment for measles focuses on managing symptoms, preventing complications, minimizing contact with others, and helping the individual's body fight the virus off. Part of treatment depends on which symptoms are affecting a measles patient.
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Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an infection of an individual's conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that lines the eyelid and the white of the eye. This infection results in watery eyes, swelling, and redness. Pink eye occurs in almost all individuals who contract the measles. Conjunctivitis is a symptom that manifests in the early stages of the disease, and it is accompanied by other characteristic flu-like symptoms. The measles skin rash typically appears on an individual affected by measles between two and three days after the eye infection manifests. Secondary bacterial infection of the conjunctiva may also occur in measles patients. Both bacterial and viral pink eye can be spread extremely easily from one person to the next, regardless of its association with the measles infection itself. Conjunctivitis in individuals affected by measles typically does not cause any long term damage to the eyes or eyesight. However, in some rare cases, patients may experience complications such as ulceration of the eye surface or blindness.
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A sore throat is best described as when an individual feels irritation, pain, or scratchiness in their throat. The irritation or pain in the throat tends to worsen when an individual tries to eat food, swallow, and speak. An individual affected by a sore throat may experience a muffled or hoarse-sounding voice. There are numerous causes of a sore throat, but the most prevalent is a viral infection. Because measles is a viral infection of the respiratory tract, it can cause inflammation of an individual's throat. A measles patient may feel pain in their throat as a consequence of nasal discharge in the throat, or the throat can become infected by the measles virus itself. The scratchiness, pain, and inflammation can present with swelling of the tonsils and abnormally red coloring of the affected tissues. A sore throat precipitated from the measles virus is typically accompanied by a high fever, runny nose, and a dry cough. An affected individual may also experience swelling and soreness of the lymph nodes in the neck as their body works to fight the measles virus off.
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A high fever is characterized by a temporary but severe increase in the temperature of an individual's body. This high temperature happens when pyrogens or chemicals in a patient's bloodstream bind to receptors in their hypothalamus. When this binding occurs, it increases the body temperature point to higher than it normally is. Pyrogens are produced by the immune system's white blood cells when they detect certain viruses and bacteria in an individual's bloodstream. The body's response of temperature increase is a natural mechanism the body uses in an attempt to eradicate bacteria and viruses. This mechanism can be effective since most viruses and bacteria cannot survive in high temperatures. When an individual contracts the measles, their immune system detects it, and it releases pyrogens that cause the hypothalamus to increase body temperature. While a fever sounds like it could be very helpful in getting rid of the measles, it is not always a good thing for an individual to have such a high body temperature. If the body's temperature exceeds a certain threshold, the patient may experience convulsions or seizures.
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An individual who is affected by measles develops a characteristic skin rash around three to five days following the initial onset of other symptoms. The measles rash starts off looking like flat reddened spots that initially manifest on a patient's hairline, face, and behind their ears. The rash will continue spreading down the individual's neck and torso. From there, the rash will continue spreading down the arms to the hands and down the legs to the feet. In many measles patients, small raised bumps may develop on top of the characteristic flat red spots, but they will not be filled with any fluid. Rather than taking on an isolated spotty pattern on the body, the measles rash has a tendency to become joined together into blotches as it makes its way from the patient's head to the rest of their body. When an individual with measles starts to break out in the rash, they may reach a high body temperature of up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Any individual with a measles rash will generally be contagious until after the rash has subsided.
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Koplik's spots are a characteristic symptom of the measles that occur inside of a patient's mouth. They are named after the pediatrician who founded them, Henry Kolpik. These spots typically appear in the early phases of the measles infection along with other early flu-like symptoms. Most individuals will exhibit these spots around forty-eight hours before the measles skin rash appears, and they subside by forty-eight hours following the beginning of the rash. The appearance of Koplik's spots is described as a red ring with a tiny grain of white sand in its center. These spots tend to develop on the buccal mucosa or inside of a patient's cheek. They are usually positioned opposite of the first and second set of an individual's molars. In some measles patients, these spots can be seen populating the far back region of the roof of the mouth. Koplik's spots typically measure from anywhere between one and three millimeters in diameter. These spots have been especially useful in the early diagnosis and isolation of measles patients.