Worldwide measles infects about 20 million people annually, causing about 200 000 deaths, primarily in children. Currently there is a measles outbreak in South Africa affecting people from 4 months to 42 years of age.
Complications of measles can be severe and include:
- Diarrhea and vomiting. Diarrhea and vomiting can result in losing too much water from the body (dehydration).
- Ear infection. One of the most common complications of measles is a bacterial ear infection.
- Bronchitis, laryngitis or croup. Measles may lead to irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the airways (croup). It can also lead to inflammation of the inner walls that line the main air passageways of the lungs (bronchitis). Measles can also cause inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis).
- Pneumonia. Measles can commonly cause an infection in the lungs (pneumonia). People with weakened immune systems can develop an especially dangerous type of pneumonia that sometimes can lead to death.
- Encephalitis. About 1 in 1,000 people with measles can develop a complication called encephalitis. Encephalitis is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the brain. The condition can be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems. Encephalitis may occur right after measles, or it might not occur until months later. Encephalitis can cause permanent brain damage.
- Pregnancy problems. If you're pregnant, you need to take special care to avoid measles because the disease can cause premature birth, low birth weight and fetal death.