A recent study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports has found that measles can lead to additional complications such as pneumonia, hepatitis and even death, if left untreated.
The researchers at University of Baylor evaluated three cases of measles in adults that developed additional complications as a direct consequence of the disease.
These findings have reinforced the idea that measles should not be treated simply as a mild benign infection. Researchers, headed by Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, have strictly recommended the need to vaccinate children to prevent its onset.
Measles Not to be Taken Lightly
Measles, an extremely contagious respiratory viral infection, is most often accompanied with cough, rash and fever. It suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of developing secondary complications in various organs of the body. Approximately one third of all reported cases have resulted in additional health problems, such as hepatitis, pneumonia and viral meningitis.
An infection that was once thought to be disappearing, measles has recently registered a sharp increase in cases. In 2019, the US reported 1,282 cases of measles, the highest number recorded since 1992. Along with the US, an outbreak of measles has been registered worldwide, with cases re-emerging in countries such as Nigeria, Madagascar and Ukraine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 140,000 people around the globe died due to measles in the past year.
Although measles and its associated complications can be prevented using a vaccine, recent anti-vaccination campaigns have significantly contributed to the increase in cases in both children and adults. Research indicates that additional complications due to the viral infection are most likely to occur in children under the age of 5, or in people above 20 years of age.
The Study Design
In the present case series, researchers followed three patients in a hospital in Malta in 2019 who presented with secondary complications as a result of measles. Through the study, they evaluated the probable complications caused by the virus, varying from mild symptoms generally resulting from a viral infection, to the involvement of various organs that could lead to the possibility of high-dependency and ultimately, death.
With respect to the efficacy of vaccines to prevent secondary complications, one of the cases in the study, who had developed hepatitis, had received a single dose of the two-dose measles vaccine in childhood. The other two cases, with appendicitis and viral meningitis, had no history of receiving measles vaccine in their infancy.
Preventing Complications from Measles
“People should be more aware at this time, especially since it is also peak flu season. It is hard to try to put the genie back in the bottle once you have an epidemic. If you have measles, coronavirus and the flu – a triple epidemic – it’s hard to fight,” states Dr. Hotez
With the current scenario of a measles outbreak around the world, researchers have emphasized the significance of immunization, particularly that of a full coverage where measles vaccine is administered in childhood. The CDC recommends two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination in all children aged 12-15 months and 4-6 years, respectively. The vaccine is 97% effective at preventing all three viral infections.
Educating people about the benefits of vaccination along with the implementation of the two-dose vaccine must be carried out at a global scale to prevent a possible epidemic.