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The Boston Globe

Magazine

Perspective

The return of measles

Tallying the true costs of avoiding an essential vaccine.

If you were going to write down the most frightening infectious diseases you could think of, measles probably wouldn’t be near the top of your list. Compared with the devastation of HIV/AIDS or the gruesome deaths caused by hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola, measles, with its four-day-long fevers and pervasive rashes, seems like nothing more than an annoyance.

But there is one thing that makes measles unique, and uniquely frightening to public health officials: It is the most infectious microbe in the world, with a transmission rate of around 90 percent. The fact that measles can live outside the human body for up to two hours makes a potential outbreak all the more menacing.

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