Key facts about measles

The Claim: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018, there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine.
The Verdict: claim verdict

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018, there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine.

Below is what you need to know about measles:


·         Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air.

·         The virus infects the respiratory tract, and then spreads throughout the body.

·         Accelerated immunization activities have had a major impact on reducing measles deaths.

·         During 2000– 2018, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths.


·         The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days.

·         A runny nose, a cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the initial stage.

·         After several days, a rash erupts, usually on the face and upper neck.

·         Over about 3 days, the rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet.

·         The rash lasts for 5 to 6 days and then fades. On average, the rash occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus (within a range of 7 to 18 days).


·         Unvaccinated young children are at the highest risk of measles and its complications, including death.

·         Unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk.

·         Any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected.

·         Measles is still common in many developing countries – particularly in parts of Africa and Asia.

·         The overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures.

·         Measles outbreaks can be particularly deadly in countries experiencing or recovering from a natural disaster or conflict.

·         Damage to health infrastructure and health services interrupts routine immunisation, and overcrowding in residential camps greatly increases the risk of infection.


·         Although measles is often associated with childhood illness, adults can get measles too.

·         People who aren’t vaccinated are at a higher risk of catching the disease.

·         It is however generally accepted that adults born during or before 1957 are naturally immune to measles.

·         This is because the vaccine was first licensed in 1963.


·         Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases.

·         It is spread by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.

·         The virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours.

·         It can be transmitted by an infected person from 4 days prior to the onset of the rash to 4 days after the rash erupts.

·         Measles outbreaks can result in epidemics that cause many deaths, especially among young, malnourished children.

·         In countries where measles has been largely eliminated, cases imported from other countries remain an important source of infection.


·         No specific antiviral treatment exists for the measles virus.

·         Severe complications from measles can be reduced through supportive care that ensures good nutrition, adequate fluid intake and treatment of dehydration with WHO-recommended oral rehydration solution.

·         This solution replaces fluids and other essential elements that are lost through diarrhoea or vomiting.

·         Antibiotics should be prescribed to treat eye and ear infections, and pneumonia.

·         All children diagnosed with measles should receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart.

·         This treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that occur even in well-nourished children and can help prevent eye damage and blindness.

·         Vitamin A supplements have also been shown to reduce the number of measles deaths.


·         Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with high case and death rates, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths.

·         The measles vaccine has been in use for nearly 60 years. It is safe, effective and inexpensive.

·         The measles vaccine is often incorporated with rubella and/or mumps vaccines.

·         It is equally safe and effective in the single or combined form.

·         Adding rubella to the measles vaccine increases the cost only slightly and allows for shared delivery and administration costs.

·         CDC recommends all children get two doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.

·         Children can receive the second dose earlier as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.


·         Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease.

·         Serious complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 30.

·         The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

·         Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.

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