Molecular testing for the measles virus is used as the first-line test if a patient has symptoms of measles (i.e., cough, fever, conjunctivitis, rash).
The measles virus is a highly contagious and potentially serious viral infection that primarily affects the respiratory system. It belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family and is classified under the Morbillivirus genus. The measles virus is a single-stranded, negative-sense RNA virus. Measles is characterized by a distinct rash, high fever, and other systemic symptoms.
Transmission: Measles is primarily transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. The virus can remain active and contagious in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours. People who have not been vaccinated or have not previously had the infection are susceptible to contracting measles.
Clinical Presentation: The incubation period for measles is typically 10 to 14 days, during which the virus replicates and spreads in the body. Initial symptoms resemble those of a common cold and may include fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis). The characteristic measles rash usually appears a few days after the onset of symptoms. It starts on the face and spreads downward to the trunk and extremities. The rash consists of small, red, raised spots that may merge.
Complications: While most people recover from measles without complications, the infection can lead to serious complications, especially in young children and individuals with weakened immune systems. These complications may include:
- Ear infections (otitis media): Measles can cause ear infections that can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss.
- Respiratory infections: Pneumonia is a common complication and a leading cause of serious disease among children with measles.
- Encephalitis: In rare cases, measles can cause inflammation of the brain, leading to seizures, deafness, intellectual disability, or even death.
- Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE): This rare, progressive, and fatal brain disorder can occur several years after a person has had measles. It affects the central nervous system and causes a range of neurological symptoms.
Prevention: Vaccination is the most effective method for preventing measles. The measles vaccine is typically administered in combination with vaccines for mumps and rubella (MMR vaccine). The vaccine provides long-lasting immunity and is recommended in two doses: the first at around 12-15 months of age and the second between 4-6 years of age.