“New measles infections again”, “Fear of a new measles pandemic”, “Despite vaccination options, more and more measles cases in children” – headlines like this are being read more frequently. Measles is back around the world, and there are an increasing number of people contracting the virus, with children particularly affected. Everyone has the image in the mind of a child with red pustules all over the body and generally very faint. But how does measles express itself, why is it now raging again and what can be done to prevent this disease?
history of measles
The first detailed descriptions of the itchy infection are found in the year 910. However, it is believed that measles did not evolve from the rinderpest virus until the 11th century. The spread of the virus then took place with the increase of the population and the close contact between people. Since then, the virus has claimed many lives, and the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed to eradicate the disease around the world. A vaccination against the infection was therefore put in place in the late 1960s and over the years has nearly put an end to measles. Some countries have even made it mandatory for children to be vaccinated. WHO then continued to focus heavily on fighting the virus in 2020, but that goal was overshadowed by the corona situation. If you compare the number of infected people on the African continent over the years, you can see that they have dropped dramatically until 2020. In 1980 the number was 1.2 million people and in 2013 it was only 83,000 people, with children particularly affected. Due to the corona pandemic, however, there have been vaccination disruptions around the world, which is why many were at the mercy of the virus. In addition, escape situations have led and still lead to an increase in infection, as you often have to hold out with many people in a small space. The measles virus is considered highly contagious and can be transmitted through physical contact and droplet infection.
Signs and dangers of infection
Symptoms of measles infection are as follows:
- high fever
- Inflammation of the nose, throat and conjunctiva
- Skin rash that takes a few days to develop
These symptoms usually go away on their own, weakening the immune system in the process. However, this weakening can also lead to complications. The result is often other diseases, such as inflammation of the middle ear, respiratory tract or pneumonia. The development of meningitis due to measles is also particularly dangerous. It occurs in about one in 1,000 cases of measles, and 10 to 20 percent of those affected die from it. In 20-30 percent, the result is mental disability or paralysis. So it is not the measles infection itself that is so dangerous, but the secondary diseases that can result from it.
How can you protect yourself?
If you already have a measles infection, you can usually reduce symptoms with antipyretic and antitussive medications, and the body builds up antibodies on its own. These antibodies remain in the bloodstream for life, which is why infection only occurs once. If you haven’t contracted the virus yet, you can protect yourself by getting vaccinated. This vaccination has been listed since 2013 and, as already mentioned, has been used successfully since the 1970s. It is primarily a live vaccine. This means that small parts of the virus are injected into the body so that it can produce antibodies on its own. This vaccination is also known as the triple “measles, mumps and rubella” vaccination and should be given to children. If you’ve received two doses of the vaccine, the protection is even 99 percent. With the help of many vaccination advocates, it would indeed be possible to eradicate the measles virus in a sustainable way around the world.