How measles complications can affect every organ

It's important to get you measles shot if you have not yet been vaccinated.
It's important to get you measles shot if you have not yet been vaccinated.

Hepatitis, appendicitis and viral meningitis are among the serious complications that can occur when you get the measles, doctors warn in a new report.

The study – which outlines cases involving three adults who developed major complications – is also a reminder of the importance of vaccination against the illness.

Measles is highly contagious, but it's also easily prevented by getting a vaccine, experts note.

However, unfounded fears about vaccination have resulted in re-emergence of measles as a global health problem, the authors of the new study said.

Serious health threat

Measles was once thought to be almost eliminated in the United States, but cases have been increasing as pockets of "anti-vaxxers" proliferate. In 2019, nearly 1 300 cases were reported – the most since 1992, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles can also become a serious health threat, as the three cases outlined in the new European report show. The research was led by Dr Thelma Xerri, from the Departments of Medicine and Infectious Disease at Mater Dei Hospital in Msida, Malta.

While typical symptoms include fever, cough, pink eye and an extensive rash, measles suppresses the immune system and has been linked with complications in every organ of the body.

One case in this report involved a young man who had received only the first of two measles shots as a child. He developed hepatitis as a result of a measles infection.

In another case, a young woman developed appendicitis, and a third involved a middle-aged man who complained of blurred vision and severe headache. He was diagnosed with viral meningitis, caused by measles.

One or more complications

All three made a full recovery and had no long-lasting health problems, according to the report published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

Overall, nearly one-third of reported measles cases are associated with one or more complications, the researchers said.

According to the report, other potential measles complications include: pneumonia; seizures; encephalomyelitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that causes neurological problems; and SSPE (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis), a progressive neurological disorder that causes permanent nervous system damage and leads to a vegetative state.

In 2017, measles killed 110 000 people worldwide, most of them young children.

Image credit: iStock

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