Childhood diseases: measles and baby measles

10 May 2014

Your child is suddenly covered in red spots. You suspect it’s a children’s disease – but which one and what should you do? We deal with childhood diseases in this series of six articles and give advice for each one.

Your child is suddenly covered in red spots. You suspect it’s a children’s disease – but which one and what should you do? We deal with childhood diseases in this series of six articles and give advice for each one.

Baby measles (roseola)

Baby measles (roseola infantum) is a common, nonserious viral infection that affects children aged between six and 24 months. The typical progression is sudden temperature (39 to 40 °C), irritability and perhaps even fever fits. The temperature remains high for three days.

A light, speckled pink rash then appears on the body and neck; the child’s temperature then drops and he seems much better. The rash vanishes after one to four days.

There may be swelling around the eyes and you can feel small lymph glands at the back of the head. The virus that causes roseola is widespread. By the time we reach adulthood most of us have been infected and may be carriers of the disease.

The baby is usually infected by a parent when the immunity obtained from the mother disappears at six months. Some babies don’t have a rash – only a fever or cold symptoms.

Don’t give the baby antibiotics as they won’t help. Paracetamol (½  to 1 teaspoon) will make your child feel better and may prevent fever fits. Your child’s appetite isn’t really affected and they can still breastfeed.

Roseola is almost always harmless, but it can be more severe in children with chronic illnesses or low disease resistance.

Measles (rubeola)

Measles, a viral disease, seldom occur in children younger than nine months old. Younger children are protected by their mothers’ antibodies, provided the mother had measles as a child or has been vaccinated against the disease.

The symptoms are sudden fever (temperature) irritability, a runny nose, red and watering eyes, and a cough that gets worse over a period of three days.

Young children can develop severe diarrhoea. Later a large number of small white spots on a red base appear on the insides of the cheeks.

After a fever lasting three or four days a red, spotty rash develops. It first appears on the neck and face and over a period of two to three days spreads gradually until it covers most of the body.

Then the temperature drops and the rash clears up. As the rash clears the skin may become darker and flake slightly. Give your child plenty of fluids and paracetamol to reduce the fever.

Antibiotics aren’t necessary except where there are complications such as an ear infection or pneumonia. The child stops being infectious about five days after the appearance of the rash.

Most children recover completely within about 10 days. Babies, malnourished children and those suffering from chronic diseases or suppressed immunity can develop various complications including severe stomach and intestinal infections, croup, pneumonia or even tuberculosis.

A rare complication is encephalitis. Measles can be prevented by vaccinations at nine months and 18 months old.

Treatment for feverish children

A fever is the body’s way of fighting bacteria or a virus – but in some cases a fever can be dangerous.

Just taking a child’s temperature doesn’t always tell you how sick they are. Flu and a cold can boost a child’s temperature to 39 °C without them being particularly sick, while a dangerous infection in children – especially babies – may raise the temperature only slightly or even make it drop.

Feverish children usually breathe faster than usual and their heart rates are increased. If a child is running a temperature but is still playing and eating and drinking normally you should keep an eye on them, but it’s not necessary to rush to the doctor.

But you must consult a doctor if . . .

  • Your baby younger than three months has a temperature of more than 38 °C.
  • Your older child’s temperature is higher than 40 °C.
  • Your older child’s temperature is between 38 °C and 40 °C and he doesn’t want to eat or drink, has continual diarrhoea or is nauseous, shows signs of dehydration or has for a few nights in succession suffered from periods of fever. Also if their temperature doesn’t drop within 72 hours after sponging them down and treating them with children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • The temperature of your child younger than two years doesn’t drop within 24 hours with the above treatment.

Race to the doctor if your child’s feverish and . . .

  • Has been crying for hours and is irritable.
  • Is listless and battles to wake up.
  • Has a rash that looks like bruises.
  • Is struggling to breathe.
  • Is bending forwards and drooling.
  • Has a type of epileptic fit.
  • Their lips, tongue and nails are blue.
  • Their neck is stiff and they have a severe headache.
  • Their body is slack and they’re struggling to move.
  • The fontanelle (soft spot) on their head is bulging outwards.

Other childhood diseases:

  • Click here for more about German measles and slapped cheek disease.
  • Click here for more about scarlet fever and glandular fever.
  • Click here for more about Kawasaki disease and meningococcal infection.
  • Click here for more about shingles and chicken pox.
  • Click here for more about  fever blisters and hand, foot and mouth disease.

-YOU archives

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