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What Parents Need to Know About Measles

Leading healthcare cover in South Africa, Affinity Health, explains how parents should keep an eye on measles.

When most people hear the term measles, they envision flu-like symptoms. Symptoms tend to lead to a rash a few days later. But measles holds the potential to be life-threatening. Measles can cause dangerous complications. Complications include any of the following:


  • Pneumonia
  • Visual impairment
  • Encephalitis
  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)


Measle complications tend to occur in children younger than five years old. Adults older than 20 years old are also prone to infection.

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious illness. It is an after-effect of the rubeola virus. The virus spreads through direct contact with an infected individual or airborne droplets.


Over 140 000 individuals died from measles complications in 2018. Most of the fatalities were under five years old. Due to efficient immunisation campaigns, this number is now 73% lower than in 2000.

Symptoms of Measles

Measle symptoms tend to emerge 7–14 days after exposure. But they can take up to 23 days to be visible.


Examples of symptoms include:

  • High fever (up to 40°C)
  • A hacking cough
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Body aches
  • Rash: Tiny white spots occur in the mouth before a red rash emerges on the body.

How Do Symptoms Arise?

The virus enters the body via the mouth, nose, and eyes. From there, it circulates throughout the body to these various organs:


The measles virus produces inflammation in the capillaries of the skin. That results in the characteristic rash of measles.


Anyone who has never had measles, or measles immunisations, can become unwell. Falling ill can happen once they inhale contaminated droplets. You can also get sick via close physical contact with an infected person.

Did You Know? Measles Can Lead to Liver Complications

If the measles virus spreads to the liver, it can result in hepatitis. While heavy alcohol consumption can cause hepatitis, other factors can cause illness. Hepatitis can occur due to any of the following lifestyle choices:

  • Some drugs
  • Pollutants
  • Certain medical problems
  • Viruses


Viral hepatitis is a chronic infection. It is a silent and neglected cause of morbidity and mortality in South Africa.


In 1960, experts published the first case report of acute liver failure in patients with measles. Later, they discovered that more than 50% of hospitalised people with measles showed diminished liver function.


“Measles make our bodies build up specialised immune cells. That teaches the body to produce antibodies that target a specific pathogen component. But measles can destroy these cells. It may take up to five years for the immune system to recover,” says Murray Hewlett, Affinity Health CEO.


Measles prevention is the best way to guard against immune system damage.

What Treatment Options are Available?

There is no known antiviral therapy for the measles virus. But there is a way to prevent measle outbreaks.

Vaccination is the most effective means of protection against measles. Vaccination against measles is usually for children in South Africa. Children receive the vaccination in two doses. They take the first dose between 12 and 15 months of age. Then they receive the second dose between four and six years of age.


Learn More: Should You Vaccinate Your Infant?

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is the leading provider of affordable medical insurance in South Africa. Members enjoy access to a network of healthcare providers. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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