Measles Made the Dark Ages Darker

Today, at the ASM Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting I am attending, a speaker mentioned that measles first jumped into the human species about 1100 years ago, derived from the recently eradicated animal disease rinderpest.

While these facts weren't new to me, it prompted me to think about measles in the context of human history.

When measles made its zoonotic jump into the human species, life was harsh in the Western World.  The Roman Empire had fallen 400 years earlier and the Dark Ages followed. Roman Emperor Charlemagne's brief attempt at reunification of Europe had just failed with the partition of Europe into 3 distinct domains for each of his grandsons plunging Europe back into the dark for several hundred years more.

In this era, measles must have killed at a harrowing pace. 

It was only in the 1960s that the brilliant and legendary Nobel Prize winner John Enders developed the measles vaccine.

Today, thanks to Dr. Enders, life is lived generally free of the threat of measles. In fact, measles is one of the candidate diseases for eradication. However, Dr. Enders' heroic work may be for naught if suboptimal vaccination rates, linked to unwarranted fear of vaccines, allow this killer to again roam wild as it first did in the Dark Ages.