Koplik spots are tiny grayish-white spots that look like grains of sands with a reddish ring around them. They often appear in the mouth of children infected with measles. These Koplik spots are mostly seen on the lining of the inner cheek, called the buccal mucosa, particularly along the opposite side of the lower molars. When Koplik spots are present, it is almost always indicative of measles infection.
Measles is caused by the rubeola virus from the Paramyxoviridae family. It is considered as one of the most contagious childhood diseases. Spread of the virus is through sneezing, coughing, and direct contact with the secretions of infected people. The virus can usually survive outside the body for up to two hours, remaining active in the air and on surfaces touched by infected persons. Infected individuals also become contagious days before the rashes appear or during the early stage of the infection, often before measles is even diagnosed, and they remain infectious many days after the appearance of the characteristic rash.
Infection with measles usually occurs in children between the ages of five and ten, although it can also appear in adults who haven't been vaccinated. Following exposure to an infected individual, the virus incubates inside the body for a period of 10 to 12 days. After the incubation period, mild symptoms manifest, like cough, red eyes or conjunctivitis, sensitivity to light or photophobia, runny nose and fever, frequently followed by the appearance of Koplik spots on the buccal mucosa. Koplik spots disappear rapidly, usually after 18 hours.
Koplik spots are not, in and of themselves, dangerous and do not require specific treatment. They are a clear indicator of measles, however, and they are often used as an early diagnostic indicator of the disease. As conjunctivitis, runny nose, and fever are common signs of many different diseases, Koplik spots are an important early symptom, and are found in a majority of measles patients who are diagnosed early.
Measles can be mild in most children, but malnourished children and those with compromised immune system, due to AIDS or other diseases, usually manifest with complications like pneumonia, blindness, encephalitis, or swelling of the brain and sometimes death. Having measles during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and low birth weight babies. Pediatricians recommend the vaccination of children 12 to 15 months old in order to prevent the spread of measles in the community. Children and adults who experience measles become immune to the virus and will not contract the illness again.