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Measles is a serious illness caused by a virus of the paramyxovirus family. It is a highly contagious infection, spread by droplets, with an incubation period of between 7 and 18 days.

Infected individuals may suffer fever, cough, rash, conjunctivitis, diarrhoea, ear infections and pneumonia. A less frequent but serious consequence of infection is encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.

Measles kills an estimated 745,000 people, most of whom are children, worldwide each year and also causes permanent disabilities for some of its survivors, including blindness, deafness and brain damage. Complications of the disease are much more common in low-income countries, and in malnourished children, than in industrialized countries.

Although there is no specific treatment for measles, the number of cases of illness that prove fatal (between 3 per cent and 5 per cent in developing countries, and up to 30 per cent in some situations) can be reduced by effective case management, including oral rehydration therapy and the use of vitamin A supplements.

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