Measles in the European past: outbreak of severe measles in an isolated German village, 1861

Peter Aaby*, Heike Thoma, Klaus Dietz


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Objectives: We examined measles mortality in the European past in an outbreak in an isolated German village, Hagelloch, in 1861. Methods: Pfeilsticker's contemporary thesis was used to describe the measles case fatality ratio (CFR) and complications. Data on onset of prodromes and rash was used to determine index cases and secondary cases of measles within the household. The church register provided information on survival in 1862. Results: The epidemic affected nearly all children under 14 years of age. The overall CFR was 6.4%(12/187), and 10%(7/70) for children under five years of age; 44% of children were secondary cases (82/187). Secondary cases had higher CFR than index cases (RR = 3.03 (95% CI: 0.91-10.07). Boys had higher CFR than girls (RR = 4.46 (1.03-19.22)). Boys infected by a girl had higher CFR than boys infected by other boys (RR = 6.30 (1.18-85.64)). Children who survived measles virus infection in 1861, did not have higher mortality in the following year compared with those who had not had measles in 1861 (RR = 0.24 (0.07-0.82)). Conclusions: Severe measles in the European past had determinants similar to those observed more recently in low-income countries. Brief summary: The measles case fatality was 6% in rural Germany in 1861. Mortality was highest for boys infected in the household by a girl. There was no excess mortality after the acute phase of measles infection.

TidsskriftJournal of Infection
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)668-674
StatusUdgivet - maj 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank pastor Fritz for his assistance in providing access to the parish registers of Hagelloch. PA has received support from the Danish Council for Development Research, the Danish Medical Research Council, the Danish National Research Foundation and the Novo Nordisk Foundation.


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