03 January 2020 Vol 367, Issue 6473
Study pushes emergence of measles back to antiquity
By Kai Kupferschmidt
Science03 Jan 2020 : 11-12 Restricted Access
The virus may have entered the human population when cities grew large enough to sustain outbreaks.
Measles, which killed an estimated 142,000 people in 2017, is one of the most infectious human diseases. But when, where, and how it became a human pathogen is still debated. A new study concludes that the measles virus may have entered the human population as early as the fourth century B.C.E., right around the time cities became big enough to sustain it, rather than in the 11th or 12th century C.E., as previous research suggested. The new estimate is based in part on a technical tour de force: the reconstruction of a measles virus from a lung sample of a 2-year-old girl who died in Berlin in 1912.