Measles – causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology

Learning medicine is hard work! Osmosis makes it easy. It takes your lectures and notes to create
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much more. Try it free today! Measles is one of the most contagious infectious
diseases, and remains a leading cause of death particularly among young children, especially
in areas with low rates of vaccination. Measles is also called rubeola, which can
easily get confused with German measles which is also called rubella—similar sounding
names but very different viruses. Regular measles is caused by the measles virus,
seriously, the species is the “measles virus”, of the genus Morbillivirus and family Paramyxoviridae. The reason why this guy’s so contagious
is that it’s airborne, and spreads via tiny liquid particles that get flung into the air
when someone sneezes or coughs, and can live for up to two hours in that airspace or nearby
surfaces. If someone breathes in that air or touches
a surface and then touches their eyes, their eyes, or their mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person
has it, 90% of nearby non-immune people will also become infected. Once the measles virus gets onto the mucosa
of an unsuspecting person, it quickly starts to infect the epithelial cells in the trachea
or bronchi. Measles virus uses a protein on its surface
called hemagglutinin, or just H protein, to bind to a target receptor on the host cell,
which could be CD46, which is expressed on all nucleated human cells, CD150, aka signaling
lymphocyte activation molecule or SLAM, which is found on immune cells like B or T cells,
and antigen-presenting cells, or nectin-4, a cellular adhesion molecule. Once bound, the fusion, or F protein helps
the virus fuse with the membrane and ultimately get inside the cell. Now this virus is a single-stranded RNA virus,
and it’s also a negative sense, meaning it first has to be transcribed by RNA polymerase
into a positive-sense mRNA strand. After that it’s ready to be translated into
viral proteins, wrapped in the cell’s lipid envelope, and sent out of the cell as a newly
made virus. Within days, the measles virus spreads through
local tissue and is picked up by dendritic cells and alveolar macrophages, and carried
from that local tissue in the lungs to the local lymph nodes. From there it continues to spread, eventually
getting into the blood and spreading to more lung tissue, as well as other organs like
the intestines and the brain. Now it typically takes 10-14 days from the
time that the virus entering the body to the beginning of symptoms, and this is the incubation
period. Once symptoms start, we’ve entered the prodromal
period which typically lasts around 3 days, and starts with a high fever and the 3 C’s
—cough, conjunctivitis—or inflammation and redness of the white part of the eye,
and coryza—swelling in the mucous membrane of the nose, essentially a stuffy nose. 1-2 days later comes the enanthem which is
a rash on the mucus membranes, that looks like salt grains on a wet background. These are called Koplik spots and are small
white spots that are commonly seen on the inside of the cheeks opposite the molars. After these initial prodromal symptoms comes
the exanthem phase, which is where a red, blotchy, maculopapular rash spreads in a cephalocaudal
progression. In other words, the exanthem starts at the
head (or cephalo), and spreads to the extremities or ends of the body (or caudal). This rash fades after about 4 days, and leads
into the recovery phase which can last for another 10-14 days, with the final symptom
usually being a persistent cough. In general, infected people are most contagious
starting from the final day of the incubation period through the prodromal and exanthem
phase, which roughly works out to be 4 days before to 4 days after the onset of the rash. The good news is that once it’s all over
and someone has recovered from measles they have lifelong immunity. Since measles affects various organs like
the lungs, intestine, and brain, it can lead to complications such as pneumonia, diarrhea,
and, on rare occasion, encephalitis—all of which can lead to death. In addition, measles can suppress the immune
system for up to 6 weeks, and this can contribute to bacterial superinfections like otitis media
and bacterial pneumonia. All of these complications are worst among
young infants who typically have the highest rates of mortality during a measles outbreak. Another severe and often fatal complication
for children under 2 years old is the development of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, which
can happen 7-10 years later. This is thought to be caused by a persistent
measles virus infection, possibly due to an abnormal immune response or a mutated strain
of the measles virus, which leads to chronic inflammation of the entire brain. The symptoms of SSPE are initially pretty
subtle like for example, mood changes, but eventually become severe and dramatic, and
can include seizures, coma, and if left untreated, death. For people who are immunocompromised (for
example—people with HIVAIDS), their immune mediated responses are impaired, that being
said if they get measles, they might not develop some symptoms that are a result of the immune
system responding to the measles virus, like the enanthem (or the Koplik spots) or the
exanthem (the rash). These people though also have higher rates
of pneumonia and encephalitis which contribute to a higher mortality rate. Diagnosis of Measles is usually done via serology—looking
for measles antibodies in blood serum, and the disease is usually most likely to occur
among unvaccinated individuals. That said, the measles vaccine is a live attenuated
immunization, essentially meaning it’s been weakened, and it’s given between 12-15 months
of age and again between 4-6 years of age, and it has an impressive 95% vaccine efficacy
rate, which means that out of a hundred cases of measles—among unvaccinated people—95
would have been prevented by the vaccine. In addition to vaccine, another source of
protection for young infants is their mother’s anti-measles immunoglobulin which the fetus
gets transplacentally and lasts until about 9 months of age. When measles does develop, there isn’t a
specific antiviral treatment, instead the medications are generally aimed at treating
superinfections, maintaining good hydration with adequate fluids, and pain relief. Some groups are also given vitamin A, like
young children and the severely malnourished, which act as an immunomodulator that boosts
the antibody responses to measles and decreases the risk of serious complications. Finally, in outbreak settings, measles vaccine
can be given to household contacts and measles immunoglobulin can be given to pregnant women
and young infants to help prevent others from getting sick. Alright—so a quick review of measles: measles
is an airborne pathogen that’s highly contagious, and causes cough, conjunctivitis, and coryza,
as well as complications like pneumonia and encephalitis, and can be prevented through


  1. Hey osmosis, can u do a video on yersinius pestis (plague)? I love your channel, keep up the good work <3 !

  2. Thank you!
    very useful video as always … would you please do new videos on the other pediatric exanthematous diseases? I would love that!

  3. U can watch musical song on measles for easy remembrance in “kandamuru aditya” YouTube channel . It’s like u can sing this song while sleeping or while bathing like music songs and can perform well in exams . So do watch it full

  4. ohh no tomorrow at school we will get injected for measles so we cant get infected. im kinda scared because im afraid of needles😅

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