Measles in pregnancy: the symptoms and why it can be dangerous for expectant mothers and their babies

It can cause some serious complications...
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  • Measles in pregnancy has hit the headlines recently, with a popular ITV show shining a light on it in a heartbreaking new storyline.

    Warning: this piece contains Coronation Street spoilers.

    Maria Connor (played by Samia Longchambon) – one of the soap’s most famous characters – is set to experience some devastating news in Wednesday night’s episode, after being told she has lost her unborn baby.

    After experiencing feelings of dizziness and bleeding, she is driven to the hospital, before the doctor tells her the tragic news. When explaining her symptoms to the doctor, it becomes clear that she has measles, and is told that this was likely the cause of her miscarriage.

    MORE: Early signs and symptoms of a miscarriage – all you need to know

    The characters soon realise that Maria must have caught the infection from a baby on the street, whose father admits that he never took the child for his MMR vaccination.

    And Maria is left even more frustrated after her own mother reveals to her that she never had the vaccine as a baby either.

    The heartbreaking plot is sure to have an emotional effect on viewers, and raises awareness of an important subject. Here, we explore the risks of measles in pregnancy.

    Credit: Getty Images

    Measles in pregnancy: what are the symptoms?

    Typically, when someone contracts measles, they’ll experience cold-like symptoms. These symptoms usually begin over a week after someone has been infected, so the person will have had the measles for a little while when symptoms start to show.

    Measles symptoms – according to the NHS – include:

    • a high temperature
    • sneezing
    • a runny nose
    • aches and pains
    • a cough
    • little appetite, or loss of it completely
    • tiredness

    Measles sufferers who aren’t pregnant, very often, will experience a rash, which appears a few days after the cold-like symptoms first appear. The rash will consist of red, raised spots, that may join together, and may be slightly itchy.

    Credit: Getty Images

    However, Dr Jennie Evans, Head of External Affairs at the British Society for Immunology, explained that this is not always the case for pregnant women. She told GoodtoKnow, “Measles can be hard to diagnose in pregnant women, as the usual rash is not present in every case. Other symptoms of measles include a high fever, cold-like symptoms and aversion to light.

    “If you are at all worried that you might have contracted measles (pregnant or not), contact your GP surgery as soon as possible.”

    Symptoms can commonly include white spots appearing in the mouth, too. Not everyone will experience them but if they do, along with the above symptoms, it’s important to seem medical advice ASAP.

    Measles in pregnancy: how serious is it?

    Of course, Maria Connor’s storyline in Coronation Street is an example of a serious case of measles during pregnancy. But it’s important to note that she had not been vaccinated, and therefore, was not considered to be immune to the infection.

    And it is there that the risk lies. The NHS explains that if you are a pregnant woman and are not immune (e.g haven’t had the vaccination), and subsequently become infected, there is a risk to your unborn baby, including miscarriage or stillbirth, your baby being born prematurely, or your baby having a low birthweight.

    Dr Jennie explained that measles poses such a risk to your baby’s health because of yours and the child’s shared systems.

    “Measles is a serious disease for everyone who catches it and poses the risk of serious, long-term complications.

    “But when you are pregnant, your immune system is in a state of flux as it has to balance the competing pressures of keeping you and your baby healthy and your baby’s development on track. This means that if measles is contracted during pregnancy, the mother is at increased risk of suffering more severe complications (such as pneumonia or hospitalisation) from the disease and the pregnancy can be at increased risk of the above complications.”

    How can you prevent measles in pregnancy?

    You can prevent contracting measles during pregnancy in the same way that you can prevent it at all stages of your life – by being immunised.

    Normally, the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is given routinely to children when they are very young, in two doses. The first is normally issued when they are a year old, and the second is given at three years and four months old.

    However, it is important to know that if you have not been vaccinated, or weren’t fully vaccinated, as a child, you should get the vaccine before you fall pregnant, if possible.

    “Making sure that you’ve had two doses of the MMR vaccine at least one month before you become pregnant is the safest and most effective way to protect you and your unborn baby from measles.” Dr Jennie explained.

    Credit: Getty Images

    “There is no current evidence that the MMR vaccine causes any harm to unborn babies, but the NHS currently recommends that you do not get immunised with the MMR vaccine while you are pregnant.”

    If you are already pregnant when you realise you have not been immunised, consult with your doctor for the best next course of action.

    Equally, if you are not pregnant and have measles, it is important to take preventative measures to stop the potential spreading of the infection, given the risk it can pose to expectant mothers.

    The NHS advises avoiding work/school/leaving the house in general for at least four days after developing the measles rash. Also, be sure to completely limit your contact with people you know are pregnant, or young children, the elderly, or otherwise unwell.

    How is measles treated?

    There is no specific treatment for measles, given that it is a viral infection and antibiotics won’t work to get rid of it.

    However, most people will usually start to feel better with 7 – 10 days.

    As with other viral illnesses, patients are usually advised to stay at home where they can rest and where they won’t spread the infection, as well as keep their fluid levels up, take paracetamol or ibuprofen for any pain, and stay warm.