Measles Turns Out To Be An Ancient Disease

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Formalin-fixed lung collected in 1912 in Berlin from a 2-year-old girl who died of measles-related pneumonia (Düx et al.)

Century-Old Lungs May Push Origin of Measles Back 1,500 Years

By Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonianmag.com

Nowadays, it’s hard not to have measles on the mind. Spurred in part by successful anti-vaccination campaigns, global cases of this viral infection reached their highest point in more than a decade during the first six months of 2019. In 2018, outbreaks killed more than 140,000 people worldwide.

But the scourge of measles isn’t just a problem of the present. This deadly disease has been plaguing human populations for centuries—perhaps even millennia. In a paper published last week on the preprint server bioRxiv, a team of researchers suggests the measles virus may have first tangoed with human immune systems as early as 345 B.C., or 1,500 years earlier than previously estimated. Though the findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they could push the origins of measles further back than ever before, reports Kai Kupferschmidt for Science magazine.



Prior investigations of measles’ evolutionary roots have been stymied by a lack of genetic data. Building such family trees means rewinding the clock—a process that typically requires multiple viral genomes, each isolated from different points in time, to estimate when separate lineages first split apart.

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  1. Taken from MedPage Today/ August 2019:
    Texas, the second largest state in the U.S. There, vaccine exemptions — granted on the basis of “reasons of conscience” encompassing philosophical or religious objections have increased by a factor of 28 since 2003. Because of these exemptions, more than 64,000 unvaccinated children are currently attending schools in Texas.

    There is no information regarding when these 100% vaccinated children were indeed vaccinated or how many times they had received the pertussis vaccine. One pertussis vaccination injection is not enough. The usual vaccination program is at 2, 4, and 6 months, at 15 through 18 months, and at 4 through 6 years. The 100% vaccinated children census would have been those children of parents who did NOT have an exemption from vaccinations.

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