New study suggests that the prevalence of measles can be linked to the growth of large-scale cities
Researchers analyze the oldest known measles monster from the lungs of a girl who died in 1912, which led to a new theory that the deadly virus first emerged as early as 300 BC.
- Researchers analyzed a groundbreaking new measles monster from Berlin
- The sample came from a two-year-old who died of the disease in 1912
- Her saved lungs were stored in an archive but were never tested
- They believe that measles rose 1,000 years earlier than previously thought
This month, a new study of the oldest known measles virus sample has revealed promising new insights into the history of the disease.
Researchers had previously thought that the virus first appeared in the medieval era, somewhere between 400 AD and 1400 AD.
After analyzing the newly discovered sample, they now suggest that measles could have first appeared in human populations around a thousand years earlier, as early as 300 BC.
Researchers analyzed samples from the preserved lungs of a two-year-old girl who died of measles in Berlin in 1912 (pictured above), the oldest known measles monster with more than 40 years
The sample was discovered in the basement store of the Museum of Medical History in Berlin and had not been investigated by other teams before.
The specimen was a preserved lung from a two-year-old girl who died of measles in 1912.
Previously the oldest known measles virus sample dating from 1954 and used to develop the first measles vaccine.
The lung sample was stored in formalin, a formaldehyde mixture, keeping it in ideal condition, according to a summary of the findings in Science.
Researchers were able to isolate the RNA from the measles virus in the sample and compare it to more recent samples to better understand how the virus has changed over time.
According to one theory, the measles virus is an evolved form of a virus that is bound from that date to 300 BC and even earlier to sheep and goats.
WHAT IS MEASLES, WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW CAN YOU CATCH IT?
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an infected person through coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.
Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, fever, and rash.
The rash appears as red and spotty spots on the hairline that travel down over several days, turn brown and eventually fade.
Some children complain that they do not like bright light or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.
In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications, including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.
Dr. Ava Easton, general manager of the Encephalitis Society, told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious.
“[It] can cause encephalitis, which is a brain infection.
“Encephalitis can result in death or disability.”
The treatment is aimed at staying hydrated, resting and, if necessary, taking pain killers.
Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
It is possible, although far from proven, that the virus could have made the leap between species when people started moving to densely populated cities with less space between both their neighbors and their cattle.
Researchers suggest that the virus relies on large populations to keep themselves alive through exposure to new hosts, something that can be difficult because once a person is infected with the virus, they develop lifelong immunity for it.
For this reason, they believe that the virus ideally needs populations of between 250,000 and a million people to spread widely and not die alone.
The largest cities in the world around the fourth century AD would fall within that population range – around that time as many as one million people lived in Rome and Xian, China is believed to have had more than 400,000 inhabitants.
“It seems that changes in human ecology really coincided with the successful emergence of these viruses,” researcher Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer told Science.
Measles has come back to life in recent years, with more than 9.7 million documented cases in 2018 and 142,300 deaths, the majority of which were children under four years old.