Why it took so long to eliminate measles

Scientists had to overcome problems with the safety of the vaccine, after which public health officials had to accept complacency about the disease.

It took more than a decade for scientists to develop a single-shot vaccine that worked to ward off measles without causing high fever and rash.

Then health officials had to convince people to use it.

Until the vaccine debuted in 1963, many people thought about the measles, which still killed 500 Americans a year and recorded 48,000 in hospital, an inevitable childhood disease that everyone had to suffer through.

"Measles was so & # 39; s very common disease and mortality was relatively low," says Graham Mooney, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Institute of History of Medicine. "People had more problems than measles."

One of the earliest stories about measles comes from a Persian doctor named Rhazes in the 9th century, but it was not until 1757 that the Scottish doctor Francis Home discovered that it was caused by a pathogen and first tried to make a vaccine. By then, measles was a worldwide killer.

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"It's an old disease, but it became really important worldwide with increased global explorations from the 16th century," says Mooney. As the most contagious disease that people ever had to deal with, the measles were virtually guaranteed after exposure.

Deaths were greatest in populations without immunity, such as island states. An outbreak of 1875 in Fiji destroyed up to one third of the population in four months, and Hawaii's first outbreak in 1848 did the same to one-third of the population, only two decades later the king and queen contracted it and died them during a trip to England.

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