Treating measles

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The majority of children with measles (rubeola) can be managed at home with simple remedies such as paracetamol to reduce fever.

Nutrition is very important, especially if the child was malnourished beforehand. It may be difficult to get children to eat because of vomiting, herpes mouth ulcers or lack of appetite. High-energy liquid foods and extra vitamins should be given. Additional fluids should be given by mouth when there’s diarrhoea.

A homemade rehydration solution for treating diarrhoea is as follows:

  • ½ a teaspoon of salt
  • 8 level teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 litre of boiled, cooled water

Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Don’t be tempted to add extra salt or sugar, as this can be harmful.

In infants, breastfeeding should be maintained and encouraged, even if diarrhoea is present. More severe diarrhoea will require management in hospital.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children younger than one year be given vitamin A supplements to reduce the risk of complications of measles. Consult your healthcare professional about the appropriate dose of vitamin A, which is taken by mouth.

Cleaning of the eyes with warm, salty water and cotton wool helps to prevent bacterial infection. Antibiotic ointment may be necessary if infection occurs.

The mouth should be cleaned with warm, slightly salty water. Herpes ulceration and additional bacterial infection may require an anti-viral drug and possibly an antibiotic.

In general, antibiotics should only be given if there are complications such as ear infection, pneumonia or definite bacterial-caused diarrhoea.

However, children at high risk of complications (e.g. those with severe malnutrition or HIV/AIDS) may be given broad-spectrum antibiotics at the outset to try to prevent the almost inevitable complication of bacterial infections.

Children with encephalitis require close nursing in hospital and a sedative drug if convulsions are a feature.

Course and prognosis of measles
Although measles (rubeola) can be a serious illness, it usually follows a relatively short and predictable course.

Most children can be managed at home, possibly with some supervision from a healthcare professional.

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

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