In Malaysia, if someone was asked to name a number of diseases during their childhood years, the name measles or ‘demam campak’ could be one of the first to be mentioned. It is not considered as something uncommon and a lot of children or even older people had it. While in some places it is still regarded as a recurring problem, measles are proven to be potentially serious and even deadly. So, what is measles?
Measles is a disease, of course. It is a disease caused by the measles virus and most of the time, this disease is associated with symptoms such as fever and skin rash formation. Skin rash is a symptom so synonymous with measles that if a newborn baby starts getting any kind of rash for any reason, the first thing that comes to the mother’s mind is measles.
Measles can be serious. Although the usual symptoms include fever, rash, runny nose and cough, there are risks for development of life-threatening complications. However, what makes measles a well-known childhood disease is not the possible complications, but how easily this disease can spread. A single child with measles in a class, mingling with other children is enough to cause an outbreak. This demonstrates how contagious measles infection really is. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), measles is much more contagious than the notorious Covid-19. To put it into perspective, 90 percent of close contacts of a person with measles can get infected, if they are not already immune to the virus.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for measles. However, since we are living in the modern age, there is a simple way for preventing measles infection – vaccination. Measles vaccine is a part of the MMR vaccines, which stands for measles, mumps and rubella. Getting vaccinated for measles can increase one’s immunity towards its infection, thus sparing the individual from the unnecessary pain and discomfort of measles. Besides getting the protection that we need for our own body, through vaccination we are also protecting other people who are not able to be immunized. In most cases, these individuals are not vaccinated due to their underlying medical conditions.
Are these vaccines too good to be true? According to some people, yes. Some even believe that the companies producing vaccines are up to no good, so they opted against vaccination, in places where it is still given as an option and not compulsory. Not to repeat the same point all over again but measles can be serious. If people are not sufficiently concerned or care about the usual symptoms of measles, maybe the deadly complications that follow could raise some eyes, preferably among the non-believers. Measles, at its worst, can cause a multitude of complications. A child, or adult infected is at risk for pneumonia, a respiratory or lung infection. Not forgetting to mention encephalitis or meningitis if the virus managed to reach the brain, or its coverings called the meninges.
There was a tragedy in 2019 that involved 15 deaths from the Batek tribe in Kuala Koh, Kelantan. It was initially reported that there was an outbreak of a respiratory illness among the people of the Batek tribe. Only later it was discovered that this mysterious illness was in fact, a form of pneumonia caused by the highly contagious measles virus. The tragedy was attributed to the low immunisation coverage within the community. The outbreak should be set as a reminder of how serious measles could be.