Measles (also called rubeola or morbilli) was once one of the most common childhood infections in North America. In the early 1960s, over half a million children were infected every year. In 1963, the creation of a measles vaccine changed everything. Today, while very few new cases of measles occur each year in developed countries, it still occurs in epidemic proportions in developing regions, infecting around 20 million people and causing around 140,000 deaths worldwide.
Even though a majority of patients recover from infection, measles can have serious complications. Early in infection, the brain tissue can become inflamed (encephalitis). A later complication can occur several years later, causing brain damage.
Measles is one of the most contagious vaccine-preventable infections in humans. The one antigenic type of the measles virus is only found in humans. This means that if high immunization rates are maintained, it may be possible to eradicate this virus, just like smallpox and polio.