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What Are the Causes of Measles?

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Measles is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system.1 It is a 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

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:10

Infants below age 1

Children between 1 and 5 years

People with impaired immune systems (those with leukemia, HIV infection or who 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.)11

Experiencing Measles in Childhood May Lead to Life-Long Immunity

While acquiring measles can be frightening, keep in mind that this may in fact lead to better immunity against this illness. According to National Vaccine Information Council (NVIC) co-founder and president Barbara Loe Fisher, getting measles during childhood may confer health benefits and survival advantage, as it may help prime the immune system, so it can provide better protection against chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions like cancer.12

“Experiencing and recovering from naturally–acquired measles may actually be, as our not so distant ancestors once commonly acknowledged, a good thing, because it confers much longer lasting superior immunity and is protective against infection that leads to complications later in life, when measles can be much more serious,” Fisher says.

Medical literature also supports the fact that passive immunity acquired by infants born to mothers who have had measles lasts longer than in infants born to vaccinated mothers, with nearly two-thirds of a cohort born to vaccinated mothers losing their protection by age 7 months.13

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