Measles: Well-Known, Yet Far from Eliminated. Why Is That?

With a place alongside other highly contagious viruses such as influenza and the smallpox, measles has been around for centuries and is no less dangerous now than it was when first recorded. Even more, although we have had a measles vaccine available for decades, the disease remains far from eliminated.

Measles: Well-Known, Yet Far from Eliminated. Why Is That?

With a place alongside other highly contagious viruses such as influenza and the smallpox, measles has been around for centuries and is no less dangerous now than it was when first recorded. Even more, although we have had a measles vaccine available for decades, the disease remains far from eliminated.

A lack of vaccination contributes to the persistent cases of measles seen in Switzerland, but we can all do our part to eradicate this disease once and for all.  


What is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease resulting from a viral infection. It can spread when someone coughs, sneezes, or even breathes, which is why it so easily spreads from one person to another. Not only that, but the viral particles can linger in the air for up to 2 hours. 


To put the contagiousness of measles into perspective, one infected person can spread the virus to up to 90% of the non-immune people close to them. And the basic reproductive number is 12-18, that means that one infected person normally infects 12-18 other non-immune persons. The only way to decrease these odds is by becoming vaccinated


Symptoms and Complications of Measles

Those infected by measles generally experience symptoms within 10-14 days of exposure, with a prominent rash which is the most visible sign of measles infection. Early symptoms of measles include a cough, running nose, inflammation of the oral mucosaw with typical red spots, and red and watery eyes. These symptoms typically last 4-7 days. 

The rash that is characteristic of measles typically begins 7-18 days after exposure and appears on the face and upper neck. Over the next few days, it will spread across the body until it reaches the hands and feet. At this point, the rash will stay for 5-6 days before fading.

In severe cases, measles may result in death. This is generally due to complications of the disease, which can include encephalitis (an infection of the brain causing inflammation and swelling with potential brain damage), blindness, ear infections, severe diarrhea and dehydration, and severe breathing problems. Complications are more common in children under the age of five, which is also why the death risk from measles is greatest among young children. 

During pregnancy, measles can put both, the mother and her baby, in danger with increasing the risk of premature birth or low birth weight. 



The History of Measles

The history of measles is long and devastating. Back in the 9th century, one of the first written accounts of measles was published by a Persian doctor named Rhazes, in which he described the clinical appearance of measles and distinguished it from smallpox. In 1757, Francis Home, a Scottish physician, showed that measles results from an infectious agent in the blood.


As the years went by, measles continued to spread and in the 1950s, every child was all but guaranteed to get measles by the time they were 15.



An Ongoing Battle Against Measles

It’s estimated that in 2021, around 128,000 people died from measles

with most of these deaths being children under the age of five. Harrowing statistics such as this emphasize that the fight against measles is far from over. Additionally, these numbers may only continue to grow if the measles vaccination rate stays low. 


Developed in 1963 and improved in 1971 (when it was combined with mumps and rubella), the measles vaccine is your best protection against measles. Before its widespread administration starting in 1963, major measles epidemics occurred every two or three years and resulted in an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year. Since then, the vaccine has been revolutionary, significantly curbing the number of measles infections per year and averting 56 million deaths from 2000 to 2021.


However, even though this vaccine exists, its benefits won’t be seen unless people choose to vaccinate themselves and, more importantly, their kids. Statistics show that in 2022, only 83% of the children in the world received a dose of the measles vaccine by their first birthday, a percentage that is the lowest since 2008.

The consequences of low vaccination are reflected in numbers specifically for Switzerland, where measles cases doubled in 2008 (a year of historically low vaccination rates) compared to 2007 and 2009, and were almost 50 times higher than numbers from the turn of the century. These numbers clearly show that vaccination is crucial for keeping down the number of measles cases.


Childhood Vaccination

Children can receive their first dose of the measles vaccine with 9 months and the second dose when they’re 12 months old. Just one dose is 93% effective at preventing measles, and two doses increase the effectiveness to 97%. The measles vaccine is truly the best way to protect you and your child from infection and to play your role in preventing another measles outbreak. 

The increasing resistance to vaccination is often related to concerns regarding a connection between vaccination and autism. However, numerous scientists have found no link between the two. As such, there is no need to refrain from vaccinating your children, especially when you consider how devastating measles can be if your child were to contract it.

In Switzerland, 95% of children were vaccinated against measles in 2021, which, while not the highest percentage (that belongs to 97.1% in 2020), is still a great deal more than the lows of 2008. Still, the more children vaccinated against measles, and the more teenagers and young adults vaccinated if they weren’t as children, the better off everyone is.

Unfortunately, since measles results from a virus, no medical treatment is available for it beyond treating the symptoms and allowing the virus to run its course. This is yet another reason why vaccination is essential, as it can help prevent this disease before it has a chance to set it.

Even if you still contract measles, if you’re fully vaccinated, the illness appears to be milder and less contagious, so you’re still safer than if you hadn’t gotten the vaccine. 



Play Your Part: Get Vaccinated

If we want to eliminate these preventable diseases, such as measles, from Switzerland, we must all play our part and get vaccinated. Just one dose of the measles vaccine has an effectiveness of 93%, and children who get both doses increase the effectiveness to 97%.

Young children are the most vulnerable to measles, so it is up to their parents to ensure they get the life-saving measles vaccine that will protect them from a highly contagious and life threatening disease and prevent the disease from spreading and amassing more fatalities. 

If you’re ready to support your own health as well as the health of all of Switzerland, book your appointment now to get your (or your child’s) measles vaccine and secure a healthier future.




Berche P. (2022). History of measles. Presse medicale (Paris, France : 1983), 51(3), 104149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lpm.2022.104149


Measles. (2023). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles


Richard, J. L., Mäusezahl, M., Basler, S., & Eckert, N. (2019). Approaching measles elimination in Switzerland: changing epidemiology 2007-2018. Swiss medical weekly, 149, w20102. https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2019.20102


Stewart, C. (2023). Measles immunization in Switzerland 2003-2021 https://www.statista.com/statistics/961252/measles-immunization-in-switzerland/


DeStefano, F., & Shimabukuro, T. T. (2019). The MMR Vaccine and Autism. Annual review of virology, 6(1), 585–600. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-virology-092818-015515


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