Measles is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. Another zoonotic disease, measles first passed to humans from cows infected with the rinderpest virus that caused ‘cattle plague’. Anyone can get infected but it’s most common in children.

Measles infects your airways and that’s where the symptoms typically start within two weeks of infection – runny nose, cough, white spots inside the cheeks, usually accompanied by a fever. There’s also the typical measles rash that starts on the face and neck before it spreads and eventually finds its way to hands and feet.

In severe cases, life-threatening complications may develop, including blindness, encephalitis (an infection causing brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and dehydration, ear infections, trouble breathing problems and pneumonia.

Complications are most common in children under five years of age and adults over age 30. If a child is malnourished or has a weakened immune system due to another disease, it puts them in a very vulnerable position and measles infection may result in death.

If a pregnant woman contracts the disease, it’s very dangerous because it can cause a premature birth and a low birth weight.

There is no specific treatment for measles, so only symptom-relieving care is given, such as replenishing lost fluids, fever-reducing medicines and, in some cases, antibiotics to treat pneumonia, and ear and eye infections. A healthy, nourishing diet is also important and it should be plant-based to support recovery in the best way possible. 

Everyone with measles should receive vitamin A supplements, which can help prevent eye damage and blindness and reduce measles fatality. Taking beta-carotene might be safer as your body turns it into vitamin A according to its needs. Vitamin A is not vegan but beta-carotene always is.

Measles is an extremely contagious disease because not only it spreads by coughing and sneezing (you can breathe in the infected droplets or they may land in your mouth, nose or eyes), you can get infected by simply breathing the air that was breathed by someone with measles. The virus survives and remains contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours. That’s why it can spread like wildfire among unvaccinated people.

When you become infected, you start being contagious from about four days before the rash appears until four days after the rash appearance. There is a safe and effective vaccine that all children should receive as a part of their routine vaccination schedule. Before the vaccine was introduced in 1960s, measles killed around 2.5 million people every year.