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A New Weapon Against the Measles

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With the recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland a week before Christmas, resulting in at least 70 cases that spread across California and beyond, there has been a renewed focus on the "childhood disease."

The CDC reported 644 cases of measles from 27 states last year, the largest number since 2000.

Before measles vaccines became widespread in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million Americans a year contracted the disease, and 400 to 500 died of it.

Most of the people who contracted measles in the latest outbreak were not vaccinated, raising another public health cry for universal MMR immunizations. But at least five of the patients were fully vaccinated, which may be even more alarming.  

Researchers from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State, the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD), and the Paul-Ehrlich Institute in Germany have developed a novel antiviral drug that may keep people infected with the highly contagious, airborne virus from getting sick—as well as preventing them from spreading it to others.

The drug works by blocking the replication of the pathogen.  Richard Plemper, from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, and colleagues from the EIDD said the drug could be used to treat friends, family, and other social contacts of a person infected with measles who have not developed symptoms yet but are at risk.

While animal studies have been encouraging, more research is needed before the drug can be used in people. "The emergence of strong antiviral immunity in treated animals is particularly encouraging, since it suggests that the drug may not only save an infected individual from disease but contribute to closing measles immunity gaps in a population," Plemper says.

Researchers emphasized that the drug is not envisioned as a substitute for vaccination but as an additional weapon.


Dr. Saad Omer and Dr. Walter Orenstein of Emory University answer a host of questions on measles, measles vaccination, and vaccine safety.

Related Resources:

Vaccines: Good for babies and their moms (Public Health Magazine, Winter 2015)

Researchers develop new drug to combat the measles (Emory News Center, 4/16/14)

Vaccines in U.S. have complex history, says Emory expert (Emory News Center, 11/14/14)

More attention to measles, vaccine experts urge (Emory News Center, 10/30/14)

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