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New Study Suggests Measles Virus is 2,500 Years Old

Monday, July 20, 2020

BERLIN, GERMANY—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, a new study of the measles genome led by researchers from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute suggests that the virus may be 2,500 years old. It had been previously thought that the measles virus separated from the rinderpest virus, which is transmitted among cows, some 1,100 years ago, based upon genetic differences between the rinderpest virus and recent samples of the measles virus. The measles genomes for the new study were obtained from a lung specimen taken from a patient who died of measles in 1912, and another sample collected around 1960. Around 2,500 years ago, the researchers note, population sizes may have become large enough for a new infectious disease to emerge and spread among people living in close contact in urban areas. To read about research on a pathogen that caused a sixteenth-century epidemic in Mexico, go to "Conquistador Contagion."

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