Measles and other vaccines

Measles? Really?

Back in the day, 1963 more or less, my more or less tranquil household came face to face with a childhood disease that, at the time, was common in the United States. Measles…along with Mumps and Chicken Pox, were not perhaps considered to be a really big deal. Most children encountered the diseases in school, and were almost immediately contagious and parents and teachers alike usually dealt with Measles almost as routine.

My first grader came down with Measles, broke out head to toe in the warm red rash and fever that were characteristic of the childhood disease. Actually considered more of a nuisance than a threat at the time, we settled down into the Measles routine: stay in bed, cover windows to prevent light coming in, drink plenty of liquids, and hope other children in the family did not contract the ailment—while facing the fact that they probably would, as the patient was highly contagious.

At the time we had two younger children, boys less than two years of age. With my already worn copy of Dr. Spock’s Children and Baby Care close at hand, Dr. Spock was the first line of defense against childhood perils as the epitome of encouraging and reassuring information. When “the doctor” recommended that the boys be fortified with gamma globulin injection as a precaution, although he assured me that the risk to them was small. (Note please: I just fact-checked that statement, to make sure that wasn’t part of my sometimes dramatic memory.)

My daughter, however, became very ill very fast. She had the attendant high fever, 106-degrees is the number that I remember, and showed all the symptoms of Measles, including hallucinations, which scared the living daylights out of me.
There was the “hard Measles,” with its severe symptoms of fever, rash, delirium, eyesight impairment….and “the three-day-Measles,” which was a different disease altogether apparently.

It so happened that daughter’s first grade class was scheduled to appear in a television segment, performing a skit or song at the local TV station. The performance had been long anticipated, and the children in the class diligently learned their lines, and practiced for the show. Daughter had been looking forward to the presentation, and was very disappointed that she would not be able to participate. We consulted with the doctor, who advised that there would probably be no damage to her young eyes from exposure to the TV set for a few minutes, and we went to elaborate lengths to wheel the TV and its stand into the sick room, and dim the light appropriately…but alas, the poor little girl was too ill to even glance at the television, nor was she even interested.

This little vignette from my past (I took everything very seriously back in the day) comes to mind whenever the subject of Measles comes up. Daughter was personally none the worse for her bout with the Measles. The boys did not get the disease then, and our two little girls who came along a couple of years later were protected by the relatively-new Measles vaccine.

Rewinding to about thirty years before, when I was a child myself, I recall vividly standing in line with all of my other classmates waiting our turn to get out “shots” from the school nurse. This experience was high drama, as we watched with dread as the kids at the front of the line actually got their injection, displaying varying degrees of panic, bravado, or silent terror.

No one had a choice back then…I’m talking 1940s…your kid got in the line and got the shot. Happily, the result was that Measles disease was nearly eradicated.

A quick check on the spelling of “eradicated” I happened upon this appropriate Wikipedia comment:

What diseases have vaccines eliminated? Vaccines have contributed to a significant reduction in many childhood infectious diseases, such as diphtheria, measles, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Some infectious diseases, such as polio and smallpox, have been eliminated in the United States due to effective vaccines.