In developing countries, measles epidemics still occur quite frequently, yet planned vaccination programmes can stop the disease from spreading. Photo: humedica
Within our series of background articles about diseases that are common in developing countries, we would like to present you today with information about a further disease: Measles.
They are currently on the rise in Germany: Measles. This infectious disease is caused by a virus of the same name. It does occur in the Western world, but it is especially in developing countries that the disease can pose a serious problem.
Due to a lack of vaccination programmes, measles still rank among the ten most common infectious diseases in Africa, which can be fatal, especially for children.
The highly infectious virus is transmitted by airborne droplets that are spread when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. The virus can easily reach the recipient over a distance of up to six metres, entering the body via the mucosa.
The incubation period - the time between the infection and the outbreak of the condition - is usually eight to ten days. The symptomatic course of the disease is divided into two different stages.
In the initial or prodromal stage, patients suffer from typical symptoms like a sore throat, tiredness, headaches or stomach aches, conjunctivitis and coughing. Moreover, patients can have attacks of fever.
A few days later, the main stage or exanthem stage begins with small white spots, the so-called “koplik spots” manifesting on the oral mucosa.
The fever rises again and the well-known rash, typical of measles, slowly spreads over the whole body. Apart from the high fever which the body develops to kill the viruses, patients often suffer from a high sensitivity to light.
After a couple of days, the fever goes down and the rash gradually recedes. Yet the body will need three more weeks to achieve complete recovery. Complications are generally more likely to occur in adults than in children. Due to the weakened immune system, typical consequences of measles are bacterial infections.
It is therefore not seldom that adult patients develop pneumonia or otitis media. In rare cases, the measles virus even penetrates into the brain and causes meningitis, which can take a life-threatening course or lead to disability.
Another, though very rare, complication affecting the brain can be the so-called “sclerosing panencephalitis” (SSPE). The disease can occur even several years after a measles infection, but still cause massive damage to the brain.
Although, in the majority of cases, measles follow a mild course, people in developing countries are generally at a higher danger of complications. Since these patients are often undernourished and in a weakened state already when they contract the disease, they are more likely to develop further infections.
There is no specific medicine to treat measles, so the body has to fight the virus on its own. Once patients have fought off the infection, they develop immunity to it for the rest of their lives.
In the course of famine relief programmes in Ethiopia, humedica has repeatedly treated single individuals infected with measles and has also been faced with measles epidemics, which are still quite common in Africa. In 2011, humedica successfully prevented a mass infection in Ethiopian refugee camps by means of a large-scale immunization programme.
In Haiti, as well, humedica doctors protected locals against this malicious disease with a preventive vaccination.
At this point, it has to be considered that humedica only carries out vaccinations when there exists a governmental regulation or a so-called national guideline for immunization. Only when humedica receives an official request to launch a vaccination campaign from a national health ministry or the United Nations, the medical teams start to take the necessary steps.