Measles was once seen as a childhood disease. Increasingly, adults are susceptible, too

Simon Matthews made three trips this spring to the emergency room of his local hospital in Eastbourne, on England’s southeast coast, before doctors managed to figure out what was making him so ill.  He had a fever of 104 Fahrenheit, uncommonly high for an adult. On his first foray to the hospital — in an ambulance — it was feared he had meningitis. Cleared of that, Matthews, 62, was sent home with a vague diagnosis; doctors believed he had an unidentified viral infection.

But in addition to the fever, Matthews had the beginnings of what quickly turned into an itchy, full-body red rash — a type that a few decades ago all parents dreaded, and all doctors recognized.  Not so these days. It would take two more visits and a pair of Nigerian physicians, who had experience diagnosing this rash, before he would learn that he was suffering from measles.

“The fever was pretty brutal,” Matthews told STAT. “The rash is incredibly itchy. Drove me nuts.”In fact, he was one of a number of adults in Eastbourne who contracted measles this spring, he was told. The infection was once a rarity in adults. But the reality of measles as a disease that strikes almost uniquely in childhood is changing. The shift is driven in part by the fact that the first wave of children whose parents shunned vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s — in response to a fallacious, since-retracted study in the Lancet that linked measles vaccine to autism — are now in young adulthood.