Today, when technology, science, and industry are on the very rise, society can enjoy the achievements and inventions of last century in full scope. We drive modern vehicles, eat best food, use new devices. We even communicate and make friends through modern media – internet, webcam, e-mail, or social network. However, development of technology does not necessarily make people happy. The most precious things in our life are still impossible to get with help of modern inventions. I mean love, happiness, and of course health. Of no doubt, medicine and pharmaceutical science have made a great step forward during last decades. Nevertheless, there are certain diseases that are still a threat to human health and even life. For example, although many types of viruses were investigated and overcame, some viruses are still dangerous for people. One of such viral diseases is measles, caused by rubeola virus. Despite its rareness, rubeola is a serious illness.
Measles, or rubeola, also known as morbilli, is an infection disease that is caused by virus affecting human respiratory system. Being rather rare illness, it is very contagious. The virus that causes rubeola is called genus morbillivirus. It belongs to a family of Paramyxoviridae viruses. Family of Paramyxoviridae viruses classifies as a group V, meaning that these types of viruses that as genetic material use RNA (ribonucleic acid). Specifically Paramyxoviridae use single-stranded RNA. Moreover, RNA viruses may be of different polarity – either negative or positive. Family of Paramyxoviridae belongs to negative-sense single-stranded RNA viruses (mononegavirales). Structure of viruses of this family is usually spherical, enveloped shape, genome is non-segmented with up to 10 genes. Morbillivirus that causes measles has the same structure, only with higher activity of haemagglutinin and lower activity of neuraminidase. Morbillivirus has several species, including measles and rinderpest (cattle plaque). Therefore, the correct taxonomy of rubeola virus is the following: Group – group V ((-)ssRNA); Order – Mononegavirales; Family – Paramyxoviridae; Subfamily – Paramyxovirinae; Genus – Morbillivirus; Species – Measles. This virus currently has twenty-one different strains.
Measles, caused by morbillivirus, is a very infectious disease. It is highly contagious and has certain characteristic features, including respiratory problems and popular rash. The history of this viral disease is rather long – it was developed from rinderpest virus (cattle plaque) in around twelfth century. Still some description of illnesses in Roman empire about two thousands years ago sound very much like first signs of measles. Evolution of rubeola virus led to current epidemic strain of this virus that appeared in the beginning of twentieth century. However measles is considered an endemic infection, thus it is present in society for a very long time – this fact means that some people may develop a certain resistance level to it. Nevertheless, from the end of nineteenth century this disease has killed about 200 million people around the world.
Virus geography is rather wide. Being very rare, this disease nowadays is mostly present in African continent and Asia. Central and eastern African countries suffer from it most of all, India, China, and other central Asian states also have relatively high rate of measles infections. North and South Americas, Europe, and Australia have the lowest rates of measles infections in 21st century. This way we may see that in developed countries the mortality of measles is very low (0,1%) while in Africa mortality may be from 10% to 30% in difficult cases. Such difference in rates is conditioned by vaccination that has been launched in 1963 in developed countries in order to prevent measles. However, even in spite of available vaccination, sometimes measles outbreaks in America or Europe (there were registered cases during last decade in Wales, Japan, Vietnam, UK, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Canada, Argentina, USA and New Zealand). In Ireland, where vaccination was only launched in 1985, number of cases remained rather high until 2000, still vaccination helped eventually stop the spread.
Despite its rareness and vaccination, it’s useful to be aware of measles symptoms. This infectious disease is very contagious, it is transmitted by contacting directly with infected person, or even by coughing or sneezing. Risks include pregnancy, lack of vitamin A and immunodeficiency. Children and especially infants are subject to this illness. The first symptom of measles is fever. If high body temperature lasts for more than 4 days, it can be a rubeola symptom. Virus affects respiratory system, so it causes cough. Besides, it often causes eye redness and head cold (coryza). Inside the mouth appear “Koplik’s spots”, the indicators of infection beginning. In few days after fever, itchy rash begins from the head down to cover entire body, it lasts for about a week. Laboratorial tests can confirm the measles diagnosis analysing patient venal blood.
Treatment of measles includes supportive treatment of fever and pain reduction, as no specific treatment affects rubeola virus. Some researches advice taking vitamin A, but generally only symptoms can be treated, for example with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Most of patients survive measles, but sometimes complications may occur, including pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, or encephalitis.
Prevention of measles is, as it always happens with infectious diseases, much more simple and efficient than treatment. To prevent this illness, vaccines are recommended for children. Usually in most countries three-step vaccination is provided, that includes measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. The best age for vaccination is eighteen months. However, although children become immune after vaccine, second vaccination is highly recommended at the age of four-five. Vaccination is a highly effective method of prevention measles, and it is a common practice for developed countries for about 50 years now.
Measles, just like many other infectious diseases, has been a problem for human health for many centuries. This viral infection has taken millions of lives around the world, as it causes dangerous complications. Measles was considered an inevitable illness, just “as inevitable as taxes and death”. However, technological progress of twentieth century has brought a solution for this problem. Vaccine was introduced to prevent measles along with other distributed diseases. Licensed vaccination has reduced cases soundly. This fact gives me hope – perhaps, in several decades, when we use flybots instead of cars, our grandchildren will get vaccines from aids, cancer, and heart attack? Let’s hope they will.
- Enders, Gisela. “Paramyxoviruses.” Medical Microbiology. Ed. Samuel Baron. Galveston TX: University of Texas Medical Branch, 1996. Chapter 59. Print.
- Humphreys Hilary, and William Irving. Problem-orientated Clinical Microbiology and Infection. Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
- Cristobal, Barnabas. Morbillivirus. Cede Publishing, 2011. Print.
- Cliff, Andy, and Matthew Smallman-Raynor. Measles: A History. Wiley-Blackwell, 21994. Print.
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