Making America Measly Again

Believe it or not, measles didn’t get it’s name from the measles virus.

Charles Bruxton did his dissertation on measles in 1793.
Charles Bruxton did his dissertation on measles in 1793.

After all, the virus wasn’t discovered until 1954, by John Enders.

Making America Measly Again

So where did the name measles come from?

One idea is that it came from the Middle English word mesel, which means a leper. Another that it is from the Latin misellus, the diminutive form of miser – wretched.

“Measles is, he says, derived from the Dutch maseln (measles) ; the disease is also called in Holland mczsel-sucht, the measle-sickness; so translated by an old English writer. The literal sense is “small spots.” The original word occurs in the Middle High German mase,’ Old High German masa, a spot. Hirsch also states that the English word “measles” corresponds to the German Maal, and Masern, and the Sanscrit masurra, spots. Doubtless it is to this meaning of spots, hence spotty, that we owe the term “measly pork,” as applied to the meat of the pig when infested with scolices of tasnia.”

Sykes On the Origin and History of Some Disease Names

Most people think that the etymology of measles is Dutch.

It’s shouldn’t be a surprise that few of us know where the name comes from, as few folks have actually seen a kid with measles, even with the recent rise in measles cases.

“Typical case of measles – a couple days of high fever, with a sick (miserable) looking kid with running nose, bad cough, and red eyes. You can see Koplic’s spots if you know to look for them on the buccal mucosa (I describe them as grains of salts on red tablecloth). Fever gets higher and rash appears at peak of fever (day 3-4). The rash disappears with a brawny hyperpigmentation appearance. The child frequently gets diagnosed with an ear infection. If no complications (ear infection or pneumonia), recovery is quick once the fever resolves, but these kids look really sick, miserable, and sad during the acute phase. They have a measly look.”

Jeed Gan, MD

But I’m sure most of us can imagine that measly look

A child with measles and four days of the classic measles rash.
A child with measles and four days of the classic measles rash. Photo by CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice

What else can you imagine?

Roald Dahl's daughter died of measles in 1962, the year before the development of the first measles vaccine.
Roald Dahl‘s daughter died of measles in 1962, the year before the development of the first measles vaccine.

Can you imagine losing your child to a vaccine-preventable disease?

Measles deaths were once common in the United States. Let’s stop the outbreaks, as we have a safe vaccine, with few risks, and not bring measles deaths back as we get even more measles cases.

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