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Measles - can it lead to liver complications?

What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. Measles is one of the world’s most infectious diseases. It spreads easily through the air by sneezing or coughing. It can also be spread by touching surfaces contaminated with mucus or saliva.

What are the symptoms?

Measles causes a skin rash and fever. But it can also lead to serious complications. About one in 10 people with measles will need hospital treatment. However most people will recover after 7–10 days.

Symptoms usually begin to show about 10 to 14 days after infection and tend to appear in three stages. The infected person needs to stay away from other people. Children need to be kept home from school and adults from work, do not invite other children or visitors to your house

Who is at risk?

Anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated for measles or who has not had measles previously is at risk of being infected.

How can I protect myself?

The best protection against measles is the free measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. It’s important to be up to date with this vaccine, even if you’re an adult. By being immunised, you’ll be protecting yourself and your family and can stop the disease spreading in your community. One dose of MMR vaccine protects about 95 percent of people, and two doses protect about 99 percent. Because measles is so infectious, two doses are necessary to prevent outbreaks.

The vaccine is free for everyone born after January 1, 1969. If you were born before then, you likely had the disease as a child and will therefore be immune.

If you’re unsure of your vaccination status, contact your GP. Vaccination is recommended if you can’t find your records. Vaccination is particularly important if you’re planning any overseas travel, to protect yourself and to help prevent outbreaks in NZ.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Your GP practice: Your family medical clinic will have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.
Pharmacies: Many pharmacies are offering a free vaccination service for the MMR vaccine. You usually won’t need an appointment. Some pharmacies have longer opening hours than family medical clinics. A pharmacist can check your vaccination record and give the vaccination.
After-hour medical clinics: If you don’t have a family doctor or can’t get the vaccine from a pharmacy, you can visit an after-hour medical clinic. It’s worth calling first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

What are the complications of measles?

Complications can be serious including:

  • Ear infections

  • Diarrhoea, which can also lead to dehydration

  • Inflammation of the small airways in the liver

  • Fits caused by fevers (febrile seizures)

  • Pneumonia – this is the main cause of deaths from measles

  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature labour and low birth-weight babies.

How is measles treated?

There is no specific treatment for measles. You can relieve the symptoms by taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve fever and aches, and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

What to do if you or a family member has symptoms

If you think you or a family member has measles, it is important you get advice as soon as possible. Contact your GP or call Healthline. In severe cases, you may need to go to hospital for treatment. Call your doctor before going to the practice, because measles is easily passed on from one person to another. Phoning ahead helps ensure steps are taken to avoid you spreading measles in the waiting room.

You should also stay away from work, school or public places, to avoid putting other people at risk. This also applies if you or a family member aren’t fully vaccinated and may have been in contact with someone with measles.

For further information visit Health Navigator or the Ministry of Health.


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