A recent study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports reports multiple serious complications that can occur due to measles including hepatitis, viral meningitis, and appendicitis.
Measles is one of the highly contagious respiratory infections that affect the respiratory tract and later, spreads throughout the body. Some major symptoms of measles include high-grade fever (up to 40˚C or 104˚F), cough, runny nose, watery and inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), small red spots with bluish-white center on the inner lining of cheeks and rush on the whole body.
No particular antiviral treatment is available against measles disease. However, the two-dose vaccination against measles virus is highly effective, safe and cheap.
Due to effective vaccination, the death rate due to measles decreased significantly in the last 2 decades (approximately 73%). However, deaths from measles are still a public health concern since more than 140,000 individuals died of measles in 2018; most of them were under age 5 years.
The decrease in the vaccination campaigns in the 21st century against measles has contributed to the re-emergence of measles resulting from a decrease in herd immunity.
The cases of measles are particularly re-emerging in adolescent and adult populations.
In this case series, the authors identified, treated and examined 3 patients of measles with other complications that occurred secondary to measles on the island of Malta in 2019.
The first case involved a young male who had an additional complication of hepatitis. In his childhood, he had received only the first shot of the two-dose vaccine against measles. The second case was of a young woman who had developed appendicitis in association with measles.
The third case was of a middle-aged male who initially complained about a severe headache and blurred vision and thus diagnosed with viral meningitis, which also occurred as a complication of measles.
The doctors provided these patients with specialized care and supportive treatments that resulted in their complete recovery from the disease without any long-term negative health effects because of measles.
However, it is a fact that measles highly suppresses the immune system and thus, the complications range from mild symptoms to extended effects on multiple organs of the body.
The authors of this study also found that approximately one out of every 3 individuals infected with the measles virus has one or two additional complications.
These additional complications include severe diarrhea, severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia, encephalitis that can further cause neurological malfunctioning and febrile seizures in children.
Among other complications is the subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) which is a progressive neurological disorder causing nervous system damage to young adults and children, caused by the defective measles virus.
Mass-scale outbreaks with increasing fatality rates have been identified in Europian countries. One of the reports by WHO states that more than 34,000 cases of measles were identified within the first two months of 2019.
The authors of the study suggest national and international education and strengthening strategies should be employed immediately to ensure the global coverage of the two-dose vaccination against measles virus.