Measles, Mumps, and Rubella

One of the most difficult parts of raising a child is caring for them when they are sick. Children are highly susceptible to many types of viral and bacterial infections and, undoubtedly, you and your child will see a fair number of these illnesses as they grow up. Measles, mumps, and rubella used to be very common illnesses among children in the United States. Thanks to vaccinations, these illnesses are now quite rare. However, it is still a good idea for you to become familiar with them. Despite vaccinations, it is possible that your child could develop measles, mumps, or rubella, so be sure to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of these infections.

The Measles

The measles is a highly infectious viral disease. Most commonly seen amongst young children in the late winter or early spring, the measles is easily identified by its characteristic red rash that appears on the face, neck, and all over the rest of the body. Once a very common illness, affecting more than 450,000 people every year, there are now fewer than 200 cases of measles each year in North America. However, if contracted, the measles can cause a number of health complications, making MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) immunization essential for all children.

Symptoms of the Measles
The main symptom of the measles is a red rash that first develops on the face and neck. This rash spreads downwards, covering the back, arms, hands, legs, and feet. Other common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • pink eye (conjunctivitis)

Measles symptoms typically take about 5 to 10 days to disappear.

How is the Measles Spread?
The measles virus is spread through direct contact with the saliva of an infected person. You can catch the measles if you share utensils or drinking glasses with an infected person, or if you breath in air that an infected person has coughed or sneezed out. The measles is contagious from four days before the appearance of the rash and to four days after the rash has disappeared. Be sure to keep your child home from school for at least a week after the measles rash has disappeared, to ensure that he cannot spread the illnesses to other children.

Complications of the Measles
For the majority of sufferers, the measles will cause no serious health complications. 6% to 20% of sufferers may develop an ear infection, pneumonia, or diarrhea associated with the measles. More serious complications, including encephalitis (swelling of the brain) occurs in fewer than 1% of cases. However, these complications can lead to severe developmental damage in some children.

The Mumps

The mumps is an infection that causes the salivary glands to become swollen and tender. Caused by a virus, the mumps is highly contagious and can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Like the measles however, the mumps has become much less prevalent in the past thirty years thanks to the development of the MMR vaccination. There are currently fewer than 1,000 reported cases of the mumps in North America every year.

Symptoms of the Mumps
Mump symptoms typically last for about 10 to 12 days. The main symptom is the swelling of the salivary glands located in the back of the cheeks. The mumps can also cause other salivary glands in the body to swell, particularly those located under the jaw, under the tongue, and in the chest. Additional symptoms of the mumps include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • loss of appetite

How is the Mumps Spread?
Like the measles, the mumps virus is spread through contact with infected saliva. It can be passed to you if an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even laughs in close vicinity of you. Mumps is contagious two days prior to the appearance of symptoms through to six days after symptoms have disappeared.

Complications Associated with the Mumps
Though a rare illness, the mumps can cause some serious complications for your child. 1 in 30 children who get the mumps will experience a swelling of the pancreas (pancreatitis). A similar number will develop temporary or permanent hearing disabilities. Some male children will develop swollen testicles (orchitis) with the mumps. Though extremely rare, this can result in permanent sterility. The mumps can also lead to encephalitis or meningitis, which are life-threatening illnesses. However, these complications are also extremely rare.

Childhood Illnesses: Rubella

Rubella, also known as the German Measles, is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus. Very similar to the measles, rubella affects the skin, causing the appearance of a rash as well as tender swollen lymph nodes. Widespread vaccination in the Western world has made rubella much less common nowadays.

Symptoms of Rubella
The most noticeable symptom of rubella is a rash that develops all over the body. This rash is usually pink or red, and first appears on the face before spreading over the body. This rash usually disappears in 3 days. Other rubella symptoms include:

  • mild fever
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • swollen joints (particularly in adolescent girls)

How do You Catch Rubella?
Like the measles and the mumps, rubella travels through infected saliva. If you come into contact with this infected saliva, you can easily contract rubella. Rubella is contagious one week before symptoms appear up until one week after symptoms disappear.

Complications Associated with Rubella
Rubella is generally a very mild infection that causes no serious side effects. However, if contracted during pregnancy, rubella can be very dangerous to your unborn child. This is because rubella can be passed on to your baby in utero. Known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome, rubella in newborns can result in severe developmental delay, physical birth defects, and heart and eye problems. If you are planning to conceive a child, be sure that you are vaccinated with the MMR vaccination.

Treating the Measles, the Mumps, and Rubella

The measles, the mumps, and rubella can be uncomfortable, however, symptoms usually disappear on their own, within a week or so. Because these illnesses are caused by a virus, they cannot be treated effectively with medications. To increase your child's comfort, be sure that she drinks lots of fluids and gets adequate bed rest. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also help to reduce swelling and fever associated with the measles, mumps, and rubella. Be sure that you do not administer aspirin to your child, however. When used to treat a viral infection, aspirin can increase the chances of a dangerous liver complication, known as Reyes Disease.

If you haven't already had your children vaccinated for the measles, mumps, or rubella, be sure to make an appointment with your health care provider. The MMR vaccination is 95% effective in preventing these diseases. The MMR vaccination is required in most states in order for children to attend primary school. There has been some controversy over the MMR vaccination, though. In 1998, the vaccination was linked to an increase in the risk of developing autism. However, new studies have found this to be untrue.