The Cause and Prevention of Measles

Though many people today think of measles as a disease of the past, it is a virus that is still very much alive and easily spread through regular contact. Fortunately, there are several ways to contain and prevent the spread of measles in children and adults.

How Long Has Measles Existed?

Measles is caused by a virus also known as Rubeola, and was given its name for the red rash that spreads all over the body as one of its most recognizable symptoms. It has been around for over a millennium, and the first known report is from a Persian doctor in the 9th century. In the early 20th century, the disease became a national problem in the U.S. which required doctors to report every case they diagnosed. Measles accounted for an average of 6,000 deaths per year at this time.
In 1963, the vaccine for measles was invented and by 1978, the CDC recommended all children be vaccinated as part of the goal to completely eradicate the disease. While the virus was not completely eliminated, the vaccine is still 93% effective after one dose, and 97% effective after the recommended two doses. Today, the most widely recommended way to prevent measles is by being vaccinated, and widespread use of the vaccine has cut down on measles cases very significantly.

How the Spread of Measles Can Be Prevented

The measles virus lives and replicates inside the nose of the infected person, causing signs like coughing and sneezing. The virus spreads easily through the air to surrounding people where it can then infect more human hosts. Individuals who know they have measles should avoid coughing or sneezing without covering their nose and mouth with a tissue. Contagious individuals should also not share food or drink with others until the disease is past.
However, because of the virus’ propensity to travel through the air, it is possible for measles to spread even with these precautions. Also, an infected person is contagious for four days before the tell-tale rash appears, meaning they may not know that they are carrying the virus.

Still, the most effective way to avoid being infected with the measles virus is to be vaccinated as recommended by the CDC. While instances of the disease have been greatly reduced since the 1970’s, it remains a highly contagious virus that will easily spread through the air to adults and children.