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Monday June 24, 2024

Time to vaccinate children against measles, pneumonia

By Muhammad Qasim
May 03, 2024
Parents wait with their child suffering from pneumonia in Hospital on January 31, 2024. — AFP
Parents wait with their child suffering from pneumonia in Hospital on January 31, 2024. — AFP

Rawalpindi:It is time for parents to get their children vaccinated against measles and pneumonia as the weather conditions from February to April and May are considered as the most suitable for its transmission in this region of the world.

Health experts believe that measles, which is a highly contagious respiratory infection among children, can cause serious complications and can be life-threatening particularly among younger children. The only and the best prevention against measles is administration of two doses of measles vaccine to children.

It is important that measles vaccine is administered to children twice, first at the age of nine months and then at the age of 15 months and two doses of vaccine is a must for protection against the disease, said Dean of Paediatrics at Rawalpindi Medical University Dr. Rai Muhammad Asghar while talking to ‘The News’.

Data collected by ‘The News’ has revealed that almost all child patients reaching healthcare facilities with measles are those who have not been given vaccine against the infection. For the past few years, a good number of child patients below nine months of age have been diagnosed with measles and majority of them were with severe pneumonia, a complication of measles.

The incidence of measles among children below nine months of age is alarming because the infants get immunity against the infection through mothers’ placenta and are protected against measles for the first six months of their lives. That is why vaccination against measles is started at the age of nine months. The main reason behind the incidence of measles among children below nine months of age, according to health experts, is that the mother is unvaccinated against measles.

The best prevention against measles is administration of the measles vaccine at the age of nine months and 15 months, however children who have missed the routine measles vaccination can get the vaccine at any time in life.

According to Dr. Rai, many patients may recover from measles after seven to 10 days however sometimes it can lead to serious complications including pneumonia, infection of the membranes surrounding spinal cord and brain known as meningitis or infection of the brain itself that is encephalitis. It is time to create awareness among parents on various aspects of the disease along with a vaccination campaign, he said.

Studies reveal that other common complications of measles include diarrhoea and vomiting that may lead to dehydration, middle ear infection, eye infection, inflammation of the voice box, infections of the airways and lungs and fits caused by a fever (febrile seizures).

Giving details about the onset of measles, Dr. Rai said the illness starts from runny nose, watering of eyes, mild cough and photophobia along with low-grade fever. On the fourth day of the illness, maculopapular rash appears on skin, first behind the ear then on the face and the next day on the chest and then on abdomen and legs. On the eighth day of the illness or four days after the appearance of the first rash, maculopapular rash becomes full blown, all over the body, he explained.

He said the characteristic feature of measles is that as the rash appears, the intensity of fever increases and fever remains high even up to 102 or 103 degree centigrade. The patient suffers intense cough and refuses feeding and develops respiratory distress leading to pneumonia. He added that sometimes patients develop encephalitis.

Studies reveal that all such patients who develop complications of measles need indoor treatment in a hospital. Measles is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system. It is caused by a virus. The measles virus reduces the immunity and children who have had measles – especially those who are undernourished – may die of pneumonia, diarrhoea or encephalitis later on. Measles is spread through coughing or sneezing either through aerosol transmission or through contact with fluids from an infected person’s nose or mouth. It is believed that up to 90 per cent of people without immunity sharing living space with an infected person may catch the infection. In case a child is diagnosed with measles, he or she should be isolated at home for at least a week and if the child patient is school-going, the child should not be sent to school for at least one week for the sake of other children as they may contract infection.

Dr. Rai said measles may lead to vitamin A deficiency leading to ulceration of cornea and in this situation, the chance of blindness in a patient may not be ruled out. Such patients should be administered vitamin A units as recommended, that is 100,000 international units to a child between the age of six months and one year while 200,000 international units to a child over one year of age.