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Measles: a non-trivial disease.

Posted Dec 14 2008 11:06pm

Thanks to the Gutenberg Project I have recently discovered a very old report on measles, by W. C. Rucker, Assistant Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service, 1913. It begins starkly enough with the grim statistic that 11,000 children in the USA died of measles in 1910. For those who have no memory of measles I offer this description from Rucker.

Frequently a child will go to a party and engage in innocent games in
which children are brought in close contact with one another. Perhaps
among the guests there is one with reddened, watery, eyes, which are
sensitive to light. The eyelids are perhaps a little puffy, and the guest
has a hard, high-pitched cough. The other children pay no attention to
this, and the games go on uninterruptedly. In this way a single child in
the beginning stages of measles may easily affect 15 or 20 others. This is
frequently the case when kissing games are played.

About 10 days later the children who have exposed themselves to the
disease begin to sicken. They, too, have red, watery, sensitive eyes and
puffy eyelids. In fact, in rather severe cases the whole face has a rather
swollen, puffed appearance. The throat feels parched and a dry, irritating
cough increases the discomfort. The child is apt to come home from school
feeling drowsy and irritable, not infrequently complains of chilly
sensations, and may even have a chill. At night the irritation increases,
the child is feverish, the whites of the eyeballs show little red lines
upon them, and the little sufferer has the appearance of being just ready
to cry.

If the anxious mother takes the child to the window in the morning, raises
the curtain, and examines the little one’s throat she will see that the
hard palate and back of the throat are a dull, angry red. Perhaps there
are a few little red spots on the hard palate, and if the mother will look
closely at the lining membrane of the cheek she will see some small
white-tipped, reddish spots. These are called “Koplik’s” spots, and are
one of the signs of measles.

The child is kept from school that day, and that night his fever is higher
than it was the night before. He rolls and tosses about the bed and wakes
up his mother a good many times to ask for a drink of water. This sort of
thing continues for 3 or 4 days; then, one morning when the child is
having its bath the mother sees some little dusky red spots along the hair
line. They look a good deal like flea bites. Within 24 hours this rash is
spread over the body and the child looks very much bespeckled and swollen.
In from 5 to 7 days the rash begins to fade, and within 3 or 4 days
thereafter is entirely gone away, leaving behind a faint mottling of the
skin. This is followed by a peeling off of the outer layer of the skin in
little bran-like pieces. This process is called desquamation, and lasts
about a week or 10 days.

In the meantime the fever has gone away, and as soon as the child has
finished scaling he is permitted to go out and play with the other
children, and before long is back at school. The foregoing is a
description of a mild case.

Yes, that was a mild case. He follows with a more serious case.

If measles assume a malignant type, as it sometimes does among the
nonrobust, it may be ushered in by convulsions, very high fever, and an
excessive development of all the ordinary symptoms, or the rash when it
appears, instead of being a good healthy-looking red, may be a
bluish-black discoloration which looks like a recent bruise.
Broncho-pneumonia, the most common and the most fatal of all the
complications of measles, is very apt to occur. The cough is very painful,
and death quickly relieves the sufferer.

Broncho-pneumonia is treatable nowadays but that is no reason to wish it on a child. Yet a recent comment on an article in the Times suggests precisely that. The article was a reasonable piece on the rise in measles cases (over a thousand this year so far) in the UK because of declining vaccination rates. One commenter replied:

1,000 measles cases? Trivial ! And the disease is easily treated. Your kids are more likely to be struck by lightning than to risk dying from measles, mumps and rubella. So stuff the dependency culture. And note that GPs are seriously overpaid for giving jabs.

If more people read W. C. Rucker we would see less comments like that. Do we have to wait until more people become personally acquainted with the reality of measles before we get a change in attitudes? All those people who claim that the “immuno-compromised” and those with a “genetic predisposition” are at risk from the MMR jab should consider what a full blown measles epidemic would do. Rucker again:

Measles, then, is a serious disease, sparing practically no exposed person
who has not had it. In 1846 it attacked the Faroe Islands, and the record
of that visitation is both remarkable and instructive. The island had been
free from the disease for 65 years, when a Danish cabinetmaker returned
from Copenhagen to Thorshavn with the disease. He infected two friends,
and the epidemic increased by leaps and bounds, until within a very short
time over 6,000 persons out of a population of 7,782 were attacked. Almost
every house on the island became a hospital, and the only persons who
passed through the visitation unscathed were old inhabitants who had had
the disease as children 65 years before. Not a single old person who was
not protected by a previous attack and who was exposed to the infection
failed to contract the disease.

One good thing about the Times article was that it was following a recent trend for the media to discuss vaccines and disease without mentioning autism. The MMR-autism connection seems to be thoroughly discredited with all but a few die-hards in the media nowadays. But the damage has been done and a significant number of people are now suspicious of vaccines for no good reason. The press could make some amends for its role in bringing about this state of affairs by reprinting articles like Rucker’s and reminding people of the real damage that real diseases are capable of instead of promoting unfounded fears.

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