Diagnosing measles

CDC (Public Domain)

An experienced healthcare professional will usually diagnose measles (rubeola) on the basis of the typical rash. But with the decreasing frequency of the disease, there are some doctors who see very few cases in their working lives. Mild measles is easily confused with rubella (German measles) and other viral illnesses causing a rash.

Measles is a notifiable disease. This means that the South African Department of Health requires that all suspected cases of measles be investigated and that laboratory tests be done at state expense. This requires a blood sample to check for the presence of measles antibodies and a urine sample from which the virus can be cultured.

In cases of pneumonia or other complications during a measles infection, samples such as sputum should be collected for the laboratory to identify any additional viruses or bacteria. This helps with the choice of the correct antibiotic.

Reviewed by Prof Eugene Weinberg, Paediatrician at the University of Cape Town’s Allergy and Immunology Unit. April 2018.

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