Type: Viral

Geography: Worldwide, common in parts of Africa and Asia

Cases Per Year: 500,000

Fatality Rate: 28%

First Discovered: 1757 by Francis Home in Scotland; isolated 1954 by John F. Enders and Thomas C. Peebles in Massachusetts, United States

Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease that is passed through direct contact and the air. It infects the respiratory tract and then spreads to the rest of the body. The first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus. After 4 to 7 days, a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks can develop. A rash beginning on the face and upper neck, then spreading to the hands and feet occurs 14 days after exposure to the virus and fades after 5 to 6 days.

Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Children under the age of 5, especially those who are poorly nourished or with compromised immune systems are most at risk. Any non-immune person who has not been vaccinated is at risk.

Before the introduction of the vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2 to 3 years and caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year. However, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, 140,000 people died from measles in 2018.

Photo: Measles morbillivirus – Electron micrograph.