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Alternative names: none

Type of infection: viral

Incubation period: 7 to 14 days

Mortality rate: less than 1% in healthy patients

Vector: airborne


Many early historical descriptions of measles are difficult to identify because the symptoms are very similar to smallpox, and various accounts don't distinguish between the two diseases. It has been determined though that measles actually evolved from a cattle disease known as rinderpest sometime around 1150 AD.

There have been numerous major outbreaks of measles in the past, such as an epidemic in the 1530 that killed half the population of Honduras. Outbreaks consisting of several hundred cases apiece have been reported all around the world in the past decade.

The first vaccine for measles was developed in 1963, though today it is usually bundled along with mumps and rubella in the MMR vaccine (which was created in 1971).

Catching Measles

Measles is a completely airborne virus and extremely infectious. Being in the same room with an infected person is often enough to catch the disease if you are not immune or vaccinated. There is a 90% chance you will contract it through casual contact.

Signs and Symptoms

Unlike many other pandemic culprits, measles is a commonplace disease that we are familiar with. The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and a rash that can spread over a large part of the body. The rash tends to appear about the head and face, and spread from there. There can also be lethargy and body aches.

There can be additional complications as measles progresses. Apparently, you can expect these in roughly 30% of cases, though good care during the illness should keep things simple. Ear infections are the most common result of measles, which can be severe enough to cause permanent hearing loss. There can also be pneumonia, and occasional bouts of diarrhea. In even rarer cases, there can be encephalitis (a swelling of the brain)


Measles doesn't respond to any treatment, so bed-rest and fluids are really the only things you can do for a patient. Standard over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can be used to bring the fever down. As long as there are no complications, there should be improvement in 10 days or less.

Healthy people who develop measles are rarely killed by it, though it can have a mortality rate of up to 30% in undeveloped countries where health may already be compromised in the patient.


There is an easily available and commonly used vaccine for measles that most children receive while they are young, meaning most adults are relatively protected from catching measles. If unvaccinated, a person must stay completely isolated away from the ill person to avoid catching it.

When it comes to avoiding a person with measles, it can be difficult because they can be contagious for 1 to 2 days before any symptoms appear.

Risk Assessment

Measles used to be a real threat through the USA, but after decades of vaccinations, the threat has dropped considerably. That also means that people are starting to lose perspective on the disease and starting to resist vaccinations. The number of cases of measles in the USA has almost tripled in recent years, meaning that the risk of outbreaks and epidemics is certainly an issue.

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