Measles is a serious viral infection that affects the respiratory system.1 It is a highly contagious disease caused by the measles virus (MeV), a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus.2,3
The rubeola virus is 100 to 200 nanometers in diameter, with a core of single-stranded ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is closely related to rinderpest and canine distemper viruses. Two membrane envelope proteins play a significant role in the pathogenesis of measles:4,5
• F (fusion) protein – responsible for fusion of virus and host cell membranes, viral penetration and breakdown of the red blood cells (hemolysis)
• H (hemagglutinin) protein – responsible for adsorption of virus to cells
How Does the Rubeola Virus Spread?
The rubeola virus lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected child or adult, and can spread via millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when the infected person coughs or sneezes.
With an ability to remain active and contagious in an airspace or on surfaces like doorknobs and telephones for up to two hours,6 the rubeola virus can infect approximately 9 out of 10 susceptible close contacts.7
Measles can spread to others from anywhere between four days before until four days after the rash appears, and it is most infectious if you have a fever, runny nose and cough.8 Humans are the only natural hosts of the virus; animals cannot get or transmit it.9
As one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases,10 measles has a long history of outbreaks, and current cases of measles continue to rise, posing a threat in many developing countries, and wreaking havoc on global health.
Measles Tend to Result in Outbreaks and High Fatality Rate
Approximately 242,000 people, the majority of them children, died from measles worldwide in 2006: this translates to about 663 deaths every day or 27 deaths every hour.11 In developing countries, particularly in densely populated areas where contact rates are extremely high,12 measles is still one of the primary causes of childhood morbidity and mortality due to low capital income, malnutrition and weak health infrastructures.13
Recently, measles has made a comeback as the disease is becoming prevalent again after it was considered eliminated from the U.S. in 2000.14 From January 2 to July 22, 2016, 48 cases of measles from 13 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah) were reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2015, 189 people were infected by this disease from 24 states and the District of Columbia. The wrath of measles was greatly felt in 2014 when a staggering 667 cases from 27 states were reported to CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD).15
Several potential risk factors are to blame for rapid measles transmission, mortality and morbidity, not only in the U.S. but also on a global scale.
Who Is at Risk for Getting Infected?
Measles can affect all age groups, but there are risk factors that can increase the chances of contracting this illness. Certain groups of people may also have a higher risk of acquiring measles, such as:16
• Infants below age 1
• Children between 1 and 5 years
• People with impaired immune systems (those with leukemia, HIV infection or had an organ transplant)
• Pregnant women
• Those who are malnourished
• Children with vitamin A deficiency (If you don’t get enough vitamin A from your diet, you are more likely to contract measles and develop more severe symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.)17
You and your family can reduce your chances of getting measles by having a better understanding of its causes, how it is transmitted and the factors that may predispose you to this disease.