The tragic case of a four-year-old in Bad Hersfeld shows that measles is no kid’s thing. It becomes dangerous when the pathogens enter the brain. Experts therefore recommend vaccinating children.
A four-year-old in Bad Hersfeld is dying . She suffers from an inflammation of the brain, a long-term consequence of a measles infection. The tragic case shows that measles is not a child’s thing. The star says what you need to know about the disease and how you can protect your children.
We have a case of measles! “You should take such warning signs on the door of daycare or school seriously: The disease is extremely contagious and not without danger. Watch your child carefully, the first clues are coughs, sniffles, watery eyes, fever – as with a thick cold . the only sure sign that it is measles, you can find in your child’s mouth: then sit red spots on the buccal mucosa, emblazoned in the middle of a white dot the rash on the body does not appear until days later..
Viruses are to blame for measles, more precisely: Paramyxo viruses. They fly through the air, well packed in droplets of saliva. Your child may be infected because they coughed or sneezed. Viruses switch from one victim to another even when talking wetly. The pathogens enter the body through the mucous membrane of the mouth, nose and throat. The tricky thing: Before a sick child is recognized as sick because his skin is covered all over with red dots, it has long since infected others.
Measles can become a disability
The rash all over the body looks dramatic but is the least of a problem. The measles viruses weaken the immune system and also attack internal organs such as the lungs, liver or intestines. If the germs nest in the brain, the nerves there ignite. This so-called measles encephalitis can, in the worst case, lead to permanent mental and physical disability or even death.
The following applies to measles : whoever has it once will never get it again. Because the immune system knows the germ that is causing the problem and has suitable defense substances, so-called antibodies, ready to counteract them. This is how it can successfully fight the virus should the pathogen slip into the body again.
Measles parties are dangerous
To celebrate their child against measles, some parents send their offspring to measles parties. The offspring should be infected there in order to be protected from the disease once and for all. Experts think this is a bad idea. Because measles is no kid’s thing – a mental or physical disability is no fun.
Many parents are unsettled by the claim that vaccinating against measles is dangerous. It is correct: Every vaccination can have side effects, including the measles vaccination. These include, for example, swelling at the injection site or allergic reactions. It is also correct: Two percent of vaccinated children develop so-called vaccinated measles. This is measles in a light version, in which the symptoms are much more harmless: moderate fever , a little rash, cough and runny nose .
The vaccination can even inflame the brain. However, this happens much less often than with real measles: out of a million vaccinated children, one gets this dreaded measles encephalitis. If, on the other hand, a child is infected with real measles, the risk of encephalitis is much higher: one child in a thousand is affected. The risk of vaccination is therefore many times lower.
If your child has contracted measles, it will take a while for you to notice. Usually around eight to ten days, that’s how long it takes to visibly react to the virus.
The disease has two phases: First comes the fever, along with symptoms that look like a bad cold. Measles only leave clear traces in the oral cavity. It wasn’t until days later that she got sick too, she was covered with red spots.
Phase 1: fever, cough and red spots in the mouth
First your child will have a fever of up to 39 degrees. It feels dull, its nose is runny, it coughs, its eyes water, its face looks puffy. The symptoms at this stage are reminiscent of a severe cold . In addition, your daughter or son can be sensitive to light. This is not typical of a cold.
You can be absolutely sure that it is the measles if you discover the so-called Koplik spots on the cheek mucosa during this phase: red spots with a white dot in the middle. After three to four days the fever drops again and the body temperature drops to values that are almost normal.
Phase II: rash and fever again
Then it starts behind the ears: the rash blooms. The red spots then spread over the face and back to the arms and legs. The fever is also back – and sometimes even rises to over 40 degrees.
Your child is really bad at this stage: he lies in bed listless, is tearful, has no appetite, is tormented by a runny nose and watery eyes, he has coughs and diarrhea . By the fourth day of this phase, the rash has reached the feet and the fever has subsided. If the temperature drops, the child will feel better quickly; the disease is over after about ten to fourteen days. If the fever does not go away, the viruses attack vital organs. Then you should go to the doctor.
Blood from the nose and bottom, bacteria in the ear and lungs
Sometimes the viruses damage the mucous membranes so much that tissue is destroyed in the process. Then your child will bleed from the nose, mouth or bottom. The measles virus can put such a strain on the immune system that bacteria that would otherwise have no chance can attack the body.
Experts then speak of a superinfection. For example, bacteria can settle in the middle ear because the body’s defenses are so weak. Your child will then develop an otitis media. Pneumonia, hepatitis or bronchitis can also result from measles infection.
The worst consequence: the child dies
A serious, albeit rare, complication is the dreaded encephalitis. One out of about a thousand sick children gets this so-called measles encephalitis. Then your child is partially unconscious, has convulsions and epileptic seizures, some muscles are paralyzed, and your daughter or son can no longer move properly. In a few cases the symptoms do not go away: some children remain paralyzed or mentally handicapped. In the worst case, they will die of measles encephalitis.
The pediatrician usually recognizes the typical symptoms of measles immediately. In the first phase of the disease, the so-called Koplik spots appear on the mucous membrane of the cheeks: red marks with a white point in the middle.
In the second stage, the doctor identifies the disease based on the unmistakable rash. Therefore, she does not need a blood test for her diagnosis, which would put additional stress on the sick children. Only if the symptoms are not quite as clear – for example at the very beginning – will the doctor draw blood from your child.
Unfortunately, there is no drug against measles virus. The pediatrician can only alleviate the symptoms. She will only recommend strict bed rest. The children usually comply with this by themselves because they feel really sick.
If your child has a fever , they should especially drink a lot. The pediatrician can prescribe suppositories with the active ingredient paracetamol or ibuprofen against the high temperature. If the red spots on the skin become inflamed or if the child even gets pneumonia because bacteria have also infected the diseased tissue, antibiotics help. These drugs can destroy the causative agent, the bacilli.
Vaccination helps the body’s defenses to train
Experts advise getting children vaccinated against measles. The standing vaccination commission recommends the first vaccination between the 11th and 14th month of life. Before that, the baby is still protected by the mother’s antibodies, which circulate in its blood. Doctors usually also vaccinate against two or three other typical childhood diseases: against mumps and rubella (MMR vaccination) or against mumps, rubella and chickenpox
The virus components in the vaccine stimulate the formation of defense substances – antibodies – against the intruders. In order for the protection to last for life, a second vaccination must be given. The recommended period is between the 15th and 23rd month. Only then is the body’s own immune police strong enough to fight the viruses itself for a lifetime.
Measles are extremely contagious. If your child is infected, please notify the daycare center or school. And your offspring should of course stay at home, preferably in bed. Because the disease is draining, in order to get well, the child needs all his strength. If he has a high fever , his body needs a lot of fluids. So give him a good drink.
In some children, the conjunctivae of the eyes also become inflamed, so they become very light-shy. Darken the nursery and pull up the curtains.
Moist air helps against this. Hang up wet towels in the nursery at night, this calms the mucous membranes.
Gerhard Gaedicke, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Clinic for General Pediatrics at the Berlin Charité, answers:
Why is measles not yet eradicated in Germany – as in other European countries?Measles is still too common in Germany. Epidemics flare up again and again, for example in North Rhine-Westphalia and southern Germany. Often this is because parents do not allow their children to be adequately vaccinated. Many of them get their first vaccination as planned. However, parents miss the second revaccination, which is so important for complete protection. The result: vaccinated children do not build up safe vaccination protection and can become infected later. In some regions, more than half of the children vaccinated are missing the important second vaccination.
How safe is the vaccination?
An appropriately vaccinated child is protected from measles for life. So-called vaccination breakthroughs are extremely rare: only one percent of children who have been vaccinated twice will later be attacked by the pathogen again . In such cases, however, they are only slightly ill. I therefore recommend that all parents have their children fully vaccinated.
Should a child have measles?
I advise against that. It is generally better to prevent the disease than to go through it. Measles is one of the typical childhood diseases, but it is very stressful and can lead to complications. If the disease breaks out later, in adolescence or adulthood, it is even worse.