There have been more than 400 cases of measles already in 2018 – making this officially an outbreak. Young children and babies are at risk from measles because it is highly infectious. Although it can be a minor (if deeply unpleasant) experience. It can also, in very rare cases, lead to serous complications. Before the MMR vaccination programme began, measles caused around 2.6 million deaths worldwide every year.
Measles – don’t panic
Children under one will not have been vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella. But don’t let this frighten you. The biggest risk group for this infectious disease is teenagers who didn’t get their MMR. Especially when they attend festivals and events where they are in close proximity. Babies are not often exposed to measles unless you live in a community that has avoided the vaccination programme.
First make sure that you and everybody who comes into contact with your baby has had both parts of the MMR vaccine. That reduces risk massively. It’s incredibly rare for a baby to catch measles when their community has been vaccinated. Second, take up the offer to have MMR when your newborn is one. Make sure they get the pre-school booster too. The scary truth is that 9 out of 10 unvaccinated children who are exposed to measles will develop the symptoms.
Look out for those symptoms: measles begins with cough-like behavior: a slight fever and cough, runny nose and sore eyes. Another distinctive early symptom is finding tiny grey-white spots in the baby’s mouth. This is the time to contact your doctor. But if somebody you know has developed measles and they came into contact with your baby, don’t wait for symptoms, speak to your GP immediately. And don’t wait for the well-known skin rash to appear. That’s way too late for your baby to receive treatment
Measles treatment for babies
Between newborn and six months a baby with measles may be offered HNIG. Human Normal Immunoglobulin. Which will boost their measles antibodies and reduce symptoms. HNIG works best in the first three days of the ten day incubation period. So it’s really important to react early. Between six and 12 months your baby may be offered the MMR if there is measles in your area but she hasn’t come into direct contact with the disease.
Remember that because this is a communicable disease your GP may visit you at home. Ask you to be seen in a side room so you don’t come into contact with other people and/or ask you to accept the last appointment of the day.
If your little one has measles she will be irritable and listless as well as tired and hot. The honest truth is that few maternity nurses, even really experienced maternity nurses, have much experience with measles simply because it’s become so rare. But all our candidates recognise the basic nursing necessities such as:
- relieving symptoms by using appropriate pain relief under medical guidance.
- ensuring baby remains hydrated if they have a high temperature.
- bathing sore eyes with lukewarm salt water.
- lowering light levels to relax tired eyes.
- using a vaporiser or a hot wet towel on a radiator to add moisture to the air to ease a cough.
Signs of a more serious condition include:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Coughing up blood.
- Drowsiness that doesn’t pass, accompanied by floppiness of the neck and limbs.
- Seizures or convulsions.
These are very rare developments but should be immediately addressed by calling an ambulance (and explaining your baby has measles to protect other hospital patients) and informing your GP.
Why is it happening?
There are major measles epidemics in Romania and Italy and a lot of the cases being seen are people who have travelled to Europe or spent time with those who’ve been in Europe recently.
Outbreaks are localised – around 150 in London, 80 in the South East and a similar number in the West Midlands with around 40 in both the South-West and West Yorkshire.
In conclusion – measles isn’t an inevitability and nor is it something to be taken lightly. Trusting your judgement and ensuring your and your family are up to date in vaccinations will keep your baby safe.