TecSalud infectious disease specialist Dr. Gloria Aguirre explains what measles is, its symptoms, and how the vaccine for this disease works.
By José Longino Torres | CONECTA National News Desk - 02/16/2024 Photo Shutterstock

Why have the health authorities issued an epidemiological alert for measles?

On January 29, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an epidemiological alert for measles in the region of the Americas due to an increase in global cases and the occurrence of imported cases.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that is characterized by an initial phase of fever, coughing, conjunctivitis, and inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, explained Dr. Gloria Aguirre, an infectious disease specialist at TecSalud.

“Subsequently, a skin rash extending from the head to the torso and limbs appears, which can be complicated by pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).”

CONECTA tells you what you should know about this disease, listed by the WHO as “one of the world’s most contagious diseases.”


Síntomas de sarampión, cómo prevenir y tratar el sarampión.


Signs and symptoms

Measles symptoms usually appear ten to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. The most visible symptom is a prominent skin rash.

The initial symptoms usually last between four to seven days, and include:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Small white spots on the inside of the cheeks

A skin rash occurs seven to eighteen days after exposure, usually on the face and upper neck.

It spreads for about three days, until it reaches the hands and feet. This generally lasts five to six days until it disappears.

Most deaths from measles are from complications related to the disease.



How is it transmitted?

Measles is a viral disease caused by the measles virus, which belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family, genus Morbillivirus, with humans being the only reservoir for the virus.

“Measles is highly contagious. It is estimated that a single person infected by measles can infect twelve to sixteen people through respiratory secretions,” explained Dr. Aguirre.

The disease is transmitted by airborne droplets or by direct contact with either nasal or throat secretions from an infected person.


“It is estimated that a single person infected by measles can infect twelve to sixteen people through respiratory secretions.”


How serious is the disease?

According to a statement from the National Epidemiological Surveillance Committee, serious cases are especially frequent in malnourished young children, above all those whose immune systems are weakened.

In populations with high levels of malnutrition and inadequate health care, measles can kill in up to 10% of cases.

The most common complications can include:

  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Croup
  • Blindness
  • Encephalitis (as a result of viral replication itself or an added bacterial infection)

It can cause serious illness, complications, or death.



There is no specific treatment for this disease, so caregiving should focus on relieving symptoms, making the patient comfortable, and preventing complications.

It is recommended that you drink sufficient water and use treatments for dehydration to replace fluids lost due to diarrhea or vomiting, as well as eat a healthy diet.

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat pneumonia and ear and eye infections.


Why has this alert been issued?

Dr. Aguirre said that cases of measles infections have increased significantly in recent years in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.

“Despite being declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, low vaccination coverage and cases imported from other countries have caused a rise in the number of cases and hospitalizations due to this infection,” said the specialist.

According to the WHO, about 83% of children worldwide had received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday in 2022, the lowest percentage since 2008.

In Mexico, according to data from the National Institute of Public Health, coverage with the first dose of the vaccine fell from 72.6% in 2021 to 61.8% in 2022.


What’s happening in Mexico?

Dr. Aguirre stressed that, although Mexico reported an outbreak in 2019 and 2020, no confirmed cases have currently been reported.

“(However), this alert helps us to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination in people who have not yet been vaccinated, or who have not yet had the infection,” she said.

In Mexico, 5,163 probable cases of measles were recorded in 2019, with 20 confirmed; 2,518 probable cases were reported in 2020, of which 196 were confirmed.

She specifically called out children, teenagers, and adults who have not yet been vaccinated and international travelers.


“Anyone who has already been vaccinated or has evidence of immunity to measles does not need to be revaccinated.”


How does the measles vaccine work?

The MMR vaccine is an attenuated live virus vaccine that induces the production of antibodies against the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) viruses.

“Two doses are recommended in children: the first at twelve to fifteen months and the second at four to six years old.

“In young people, adults, and international travelers, two doses four weeks apart are recommended in the case of no evidence of immunity against these viruses, either due to previous infection or vaccination.”

The TecSalud specialist stressed that this is a highly effective vaccine since two doses are 97% effective at preventing infection, starting two to three weeks after application.

There are certain groups of the population for whom the vaccine is contraindicated, such as pregnant women, those with immunodeficiencies (a weak or low immune system), or a severe allergy to the vaccine.

“Anyone who has already been vaccinated or has evidence of immunity to measles does not need to be revaccinated.

“It’s important to review our immunization record, keep it up to date, and consult a doctor in a timely manner in the event of symptoms similar to measles,” she concluded.


With information from the WHO.




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