About MeaslesMeasles is a communicable disease caused by a virus. Persian physician and scholar Abū Bakr Muhammad Zakariyyā Rāzī discovered the disease in the ninth century but it became a global term in the 16th century. In 1757, measles-infected blood was transmitted to healthy donors where Scottish doctor Francis Home discovered that a highly infectious bacterium causes measles. Measles only become a nationally recognized disease in the United States in 1912, when there were 6,000 deaths annually. To this day, measles is considered to be one of the world’s deadliest diseases, especially in developing nations, despite treatment efforts. Here are three facts about measles.

3 Facts About Measles

  1. In 2022, the creator of the measles vaccine Samuel L. Katz passed away at the age of 95. Before the development of the vaccine, almost every child had measles by the age of 15 and nearly 4 million people were infected every year. Five hundred people died from measles each year, there were 48,000 hospitalizations and 1,000 people had swelling of the brain due to the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1956, there was a disease breakout at a school in Boston, Massachusetts, where John F. Enders and Dr. Thomas C. Peebles collected blood samples from infected students and isolated the disease within David Edmonton’s blood. In 1963, they developed Edmonton’s virus into a vaccine and it officially received a license in the United States, where Maurice Hilleman and his research team further improved it in 1968.
  2. Before the vaccine, there was an epidemic every two to three years that caused around 2.6 million deaths each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Even after the vaccine, in 2018, 140,000 people died from measles, most of which were children under 5. Unvaccinated children, pregnant women and non-immune people are most at risk of getting measles, though it is particularly common in developing nations, such as countries in Africa and Asia. In addition, more than 95% of deaths happen in low-income households and countries with underdeveloped health services, WHO reports. Once one has measles, there is no anti-treatment available. However, vitamin A can reduce the complications and risk of death from measles after taking two doses a day apart. The vaccine is a routine procedure in the U.S. and costs $1 per vaccine. However, many developing nations cannot afford the vaccine. This has led to 19.2 million infants not receiving a single dose in 2018. Around 6 million of these infants were from India, Nigeria and Pakistan, where the number of cases is significantly rising.
  3. According to the WHO, measles spreads through coughing, sneezing and being in close contact with infected patients. It can stay airborne and on infected surfaces for as long as two hours and can infect people four days before and after a rash occurs. The first symptoms of measles show 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, lasting for four to seven days. It initially has cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes and a fever. Patients also develop small white spots on their cheeks. This develops into a rash after 14 days, which could last for six days. Without treatment, complications could occur, such as blindness, brain swelling, diarrhea, dehydration and ear and respiratory infections. Though, complications occur more in malnourished children with a lack of vitamin A or those who have weak immune systems from other diseases.

Looking Ahead

In 2010, the World Health Assembly stated three targets to eradicate measles by 2015. First, to enable more first-dose vaccines during routine coverage to more than 90%. Second, to reduce case numbers to less than five cases per million annually. Third, to reduce measles-related deaths by at least 95%. Furthermore, in 2012, the World Health Assembly supported the Global Vaccine Action Plan of “eliminating measles in four WHO regions by 2015 and five regions by 2020,” the WHO reports. These goals were successful and as of 2018, mortality rates had decreased by 73% with the development of the vaccine coverage. The Measles and Rubella Initiative, founded in 2001 and the Gavi Vaccine Alliance also supported this by preventing 23.2 million deaths, where most of the deaths would have been in Africa and the countries that the Gavi Alliance support.

– Deanna Barratt
Photo: Flickr