The Deadly Return of Measles: Lessons from Philadelphia 1991 for Ontario 2024

A child in Ontario recently died from measles. Nine children died in Philadelphia from the disease a generation ago.

René F. Najera, MPH, DrPH
Microbial Instincts

--

Microscopic image of a single measles virus particle stained in purple, showing its spherical shape and textured surface.

Measles, a highly contagious viral disease, is making an alarming resurgence in Canada and around the world. Tragically, an unvaccinated child under 5 years old recently died of measles in Ontario, marking the first measles death in the province in over a decade. This heartbreaking loss echoes a deadly outbreak that devastated Philadelphia over 30 years ago. As measles cases skyrocket globally in 2024, what can we learn from Philadelphia’s painful past to protect children today?

The 1990–1991 Philadelphia Measles Outbreak

In the spring of 1990, measles erupted in Philadelphia, primarily among two fundamentalist church congregations, Faith Tabernacle and First Century Gospel, that relied on prayer rather than medical treatment. The virus likely arrived in the city via an infected teenager who attended a concert after traveling to Spain.

Over the following year, the outbreak would sicken over 1,400 people, mostly unvaccinated children, and claim 9 young lives. Overcrowded living conditions accelerated the spread. Low…

--

--

René F. Najera, MPH, DrPH
Microbial Instincts

DrPH in Epidemiology. Public Health Instructor. Father. Husband. "All around great guy."