You've probably heard it by now: measles has made a comeback in Hong Kong. Initially starting as an outbreak among airport and airline staff, the number of cases in the city has now reached over 60 — exceeding those of cases within the last 4 years.
Understandably, this sudden increase has been a high concern among people in Hong Kong and the region. Responding to the concerns we've heard from our patients, we'll be discussing the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of measles, so you can educate and protect yourself and your family.
What are Measles?
- Measles, also can be referred to as rubeola, is a highly contagious virus (more than chicken pox).
- It can be transmitted through the air in droplet form or by direct contact with nasal or throat secretions from an infected persons.
- An infected person can spread the disease 4 days before or 4 days after the typical rash appears.
- In the US 1 in 1,000 cases measles can lead to serious complications.
Symptoms of measles can vary from person to person, but commonly infected individuals are initially presented with a high fever, which may follow up with:
- Cough symptoms
- Conjunctivitis (red eye)
- A rash that typically starts from the head and spreads down to the rest of the body.
Normally, there is an average wait period of 10-12 days starting from initial exposure to the appearance of the first symptoms. Meaning you could be infected but unaware.
Often your doctor can diagnose measles based on viewing the characteristic rashes on your body (called Koplik spots). However, blood tests can also be run to validate the diagnosis.
- If patients are unable to pursue the blood testing option, a saliva test can also be performed.
- There is no specific treatment of measles except bed rest, medication for fever and plenty of fluids.
- Infants below 6 months of age, have some protection from placental transfer of the measles antibody from the mother.
Often prevention is more effective than a cure, and we recommend getting immunised against measles with a MMR vaccination (measles, mumps and rubella) or MMRV (Varicella).
- The MMR and MMRV vaccines have been very effective in the past, individually, and in keeping up a strong herd immunity.
- The MMR vaccine is suitable for individuals from 6 months onwards.
- MMRV (MMR plus chickenpox) vaccine is licensed for individuals from 12 months to 12 years old.
These vaccines are 97% effective with two doses and 93% effective with one.
Hong Kong has a high vaccination coverage across the region, and the incidence of measles has been well below other countries for many years. The recent outbreaks have mainly been identified as airport staff and individuals that have passed through the airport in recent time. Here at OT&P we suggest that:
- All babies 12 months and older should ensure that they have had at least one MMR*
- The Centre for Health Protection Hong Kong has recommended that the second dose vaccination can be given earlier at 18 months. This can even be earlier as 28 days after the first dose if travelling to high risk region.
- Foreign domestic helpers who are unsure of their vaccination status should be tested and vaccinated**.
- For those individuals who are unsure of their status, this can be checked by a simple blood test before vaccination **.
* At present, the MMR is in high demand. Therefore, if eligible please get the first dose MMR vaccine in the government clinics, rather than waiting for availability.
** Due to recent increase in demand, we are taking names and placing them on a waiting list.