Advice to Parents on Childhood Measles Part I

 Measles  is caused by a virus of the influenza family. The initial  measles  symptoms are a bit like a bad cold or flu, but with a rash! The vast majority of parents do not know what  measles  really is, other than being a childhood illness. They know it has a rash and is infectious, but that’s about it. They have probably never seen it and don’t know anyone who has had it. Most doctors would not recognise  measles  symptoms until the rash appeared, never having come across it. This is due to the  measles  vaccination program which was superseded by the MMR vaccine.

I have even heard of parents arranging  measles  parties, where young children are sent to visit others who have  measles  in order that they catch it. This is going back to the immediate post World War 2 era when immunity was gained by catching the disease. I was brought up in the 1950s and early 1960s and remember mumps parties and German  measles  parties so that children would be immune to these diseases as adults, but not  measles  parties.

The reason for this is that mumps can damage the male reproductive system ( and, not so well known, the ovaries as well) if contracted after puberty, and German  measles  is very dangerous to the developing fetus. In children, however, they are relatively mild diseases. Painful and uncomfortable, perhaps, but not what you would call killer diseases. German  measles  is not a type of  measles . The word ‘German’ probably comes from a Latin word, germanus, meaning ‘similar’ since the symptoms are similar to those of  measles .

 Measles  kill, so we never had  measles  parties. In fact back in the 1940s and 1950s it was a major killer. In England alone 5,677 children died in the 1940s. Nobody wanted their kids to catch  measles  back in these days. I have read that  measles  parties were common then, but I never came across one. We were always told to keep away from anyone who had  measles  – at least until they went back to school. Some never went back.

Since the  measles  vaccine, which became available in 1963, and MMR which was licensed in the USA in 1971 (1972 in the UK), the disease has become uncommon in developed countries, and parents have become blasé about it. This is the only reason I can think of for them concluding that  measles  parties are better for their children than the vaccine. If it does not kill, it can have some very nasty side effects. It is without a doubt the most dangerous children’s rash-producing disease.

 Measles  is still one of the major causes of death in children worldwide (over 600,000 have been reported) and it is almost as contagious as smallpox. Children have around a 99% chance of contracting the disease if they come into contacted with an infected person. The main cause of death in around 60% of  measles  cases is pneumonia.

If it does not kill your children they have a high chance of hearing problems, and worse, a much higher than average chance of contracting meningitis or encephalitis. The chances of this are only 1 in a 1000, but you don’t want your son or daughter to be that one. I know, because my son was that one. He contracted meningitis and encaphilitis shortly after receiving a  measles  vaccination, but I still prompted my daughter to allow her son to have the MMR vaccine. The disease is far more dangerous than the vaccine. He had it and all was well. My son’s story is on my website.

In part two of this article, I will explain the symptoms and in what order they can be expected, to help parents who are unsure what they should do or when to call a doctor.

Copyright 2006 Peter Nisbet