Measles outbreak hits Serbia

Since the beginning of October, 105 people in Serbia have been infected with measles, mainly in the southern towns of Vranje and Bujanovac, according to the "Dr Milan Jovanović Batut" Institute of Public Health of Serbia.

Everyone infected was unvaccinated.

On November 8th, the Institute of Public Health of Serbia reported that the measles epidemic had arrived in Belgrade, too.

Many Serbian children and adults were never vaccinated for measles, allowing the outbreak to occur.

Currently, Serbia has a shortage of measles vaccines. We don't know yet who will get the limited supply of vaccines.

If you are in Serbia and have never had measles or a measles vaccination, you are at risk of catching the virus.

Here's how to recognize the signs of the virus and know when to seek medical help.

child-measles Photo credit: CDC

What is measles?

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant. It sometimes leads to serious complications.

Anyone can get measles if they haven't been vaccinated or they haven't had it before. It's most common in children under 5.

If pregnant women or people with a compromised immune system get measles, they are at risk of severe complications.

What are the symptoms?

Measles starts with cold-like symptoms that develop about 10 to 14 days after you are infected.

The initial symptoms of measles can include:

  • High temperature, which may reach around 40 degrees Celcius
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • Small grayish-white spots in the mouth
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness, irritability and a general lack of energy

The measles rash comes next. It appears around 2 to 4 days after the initial symptoms and normally fades after about a week.

The rash:

  • Consists of small red-brown spots, some of which are slightly raised
  • Usually first appears on the head or neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body
  • Is slightly itchy for some people

kanyaro_tunetek Photo credit: Shutterstock

Complications

Most people will recover from measles in around 7 to 10 days, but sometimes it can lead to serious complications.

In some cases, measles can be life-threatening.

Common complications of measles include:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration
  • Middle-ear infection, which can cause earache
  • Eye infection
  • Infections of the airways and lungs
  • Seizures caused by a fever

Uncommon complications of measles include:

  • Liver infection
  • Heart and nervous system problems
  • Infection of the brain

If you are expecting a baby and you get infected, the pregnancy complications you could experience include:

  • Miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Premature birth – before the 37th week of pregnancy
  • Your baby having a low birth weight

fwcfvizsbxb6cmdkczk8 Photo credit: CDC

When to seek immediate medical advice

Contact the nearest doctor in your camp, or the MSF team outside the camp, as soon as you suspect that you or your child is infected with measles. Do it even if you are not completely sure.

Treatment

Every measles case needs medical treatment.

There is no cure for measles, but doctors can treat the symptoms of the measles.

They can give you medications to reduce the fever and relieve aches and pains. Doctors may give you antibiotics in case of bacterial infection. Vitamin A can also lessen the severity of the measles.

Where available, a doctor can also give you a post-exposure vaccine within 72 hours of exposure to measles. Even if it doesn't prevent the disease, you will only have a mild case of the measles.

What you can do

  • Rest at home until the symptoms subside.
  • If you or your child has a fever, make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • If you or your child has sore eyes, you can gently clean away any crustiness from the eyelids and lashes with a wet cotton ball.
  • Rest your eyes. Close the curtains or dim the lights if bright light is hurting your or your child’s eyes.
  • If you or your child has cold-like symptoms, drink warm drinks that contain lemon or honey. Do not give honey to babies under 12 months.

Once the disease has run its course, you will be immune from the virus.

Stopping measles from spreading to others

Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of the people who stand near someone with the virus will become infected.

If you already have measles, it's important to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other people.

If you or your child are affected, you should:

  • Avoid contact with people who are not infected, especially young children and pregnant women, while you're ill. This includes your family.
  • Avoid school while you're ill.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing.

image Photo credit: HVG

Prevention

Avoiding contact with infected people can lower your risk of measles, but it can't guarantee that you won't get the virus.

The only way to fully avoid catching the measles is getting an MMR vaccine. ("MMR" stands for measles, mumps and rubella.)

It's safe for you or your child to be vaccinated at any time. If you're not sure whether you were vaccinated in the past, getting the vaccine again won't cause any harm.

A dose of the MMR vaccine can also be given to anyone over 6 months old.

Getting the proper vaccinations not only protects you, it also protects those who are not vaccinated, or received only one doze.

As soon as we have more information about how to get vaccinated, we will share it here.