While measles is not usually a killer, it can be a deadly disease. It cut the population of central Mexico down from 30 million to three million within 50 years after CortÚs arrived on the New World. In 1772, 800 children died in the Charleston neighborhood of Boston. In 1848 it crossed California and struck Hawaii killing 27% of the 150,000 cases. It did even worse in 1873 when the H.M.S. Dido arrived in the Fiji Islands and ╝ or 30,000 Fijians died from measles within three months.
This virus is known for it's remarkably consistent potency. Starting with just one case in Greenland during the year 1951, it soon infected all but 5 of the 4,500 inhabitants by the end of six weeks. Lucky, because of great care, only 1.8% actually died.
Before a vaccine was approved in the U.S. in 1963, there used to be a half a million cases each year in the U.S. Because of its similarity with smallpox, people used to tried to vaccinate themselves as far back as 1758 by using the same method. They would get blood from patients with measles and smeared or scratched it on the skin. It was only mildly successful. It was only after the late 1930s were researchers able to grow the virus outside the body. In the mid-1950s, it was learned how to determine how much virus was present when cultivated in chicken embryos. This opened a way to produce a safe vaccine.
It was attempted to eradicate measles like smallpox. In 1977, the U.S. set a goal to eradicate this disease by the end of 1982. This never happened of course. Once it went down to 3,000 cases a year, but in 1990 there were 25,000 cases. Some people are still not vaccinated for varies reasons which makes eradication difficult. For example, in 1994, a skier in Colorado passed the disease onto hundreds of unvaccinated students, most of who were Christian Scientists who favored prayer over medicine. Another reason eradication is impossible is the lack of government support in many countries. In the U.S., only 70% of two-year-olds were vaccinated in 1990. Vaccination must be near perfect to counter this extremely contagious disease.
About one million people, mostly children, die from measles each year.