Tag: William Sears

Remembering Measles

I don’t remember treating any kids with measles in medical school or residency.

We certainly saw a lot of other now vaccine-preventable diseases when I was in training, from rotavirus and pneumococcal disease to meningococcal disease.

“When I graduated from medical school, many of the current vaccines were either not yet invented or just beginning to be widely used. I still remember what health care was like in the pre-vaccine era, and I remember that there seemed to be at least one child in each neighborhood who spent much of her life in an iron lung because of polio. As a young resident in pediatrics, I heard, on the whooping-cough ward, the coughing and choking of children with pneumonia. I remember the brain damage from encephalitis caused by measles, and the birth defects of babies whose mothers had had German measles during pregnancy. In my first years in pediatric practice, I remember making hospital rounds every morning and treating children with meningitis, and complications of chicken pox and other illnesses that have been either eliminated or lessened in severity by the widespread use of vaccines. Also, I remember more than a decade ago when Great Britain temporarily stopped the routine use of the DTP vaccine because of a reaction scare (which later turned out to be a false alarm) and consequently suffered a resurgence of whooping cough. Because of my “historical” perspective, I have grown to appreciate the value of vaccines as a necessary public-health measure. Currently in our pediatric practice, we follow the vaccine schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Dr. William Sears on Ask Dr. Sears: Vaccination/Immunization Concerns

But I trained in the post-elimination era for measles.

Remembering Measles

Although some folks only seem to have the Brady Bunch to use as a guide, fortunately there are many other ways to discover what measles used to be like.

I asked some of my old instructors…

“Typical case of measles – a couple days of high fever, with a sick (miserable) looking kid with running nose, bad cough, and red eyes. You can see Koplik’s spots if you know to look for them on the buccal mucosa (I describe them as grains of salts on red tablecloth). Fever gets higher and rash appears at peak of fever (day 3-4). The rash disappears with a brawny hyperpigmented appearance. The child frequently gets diagnosed with an ear infection. If no complications (ear infection or pneumonia), recovery is quick once the fever resolves, but these kids look really sick, miserable, and sad during the acute phase. They have a measly look.”

Jeed Gan, MD

After reading that account, I’m glad my kids are all vaccinated and protected and hopefully won’t ever get measles, as it sounds horrible.

Although I have never seen it, I can certainly imagine that measly look…

A child with measles and four days of the classic measles rash.
A child with measles and four days of the classic measles rash. Photo by CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice

What else can you imagine?

“I’ve often called measles ‘the harmless killer’ because, although most youngsters recover uneventfully, the disease a certain amount of really serious damage.”

Dr. Joseph Molner

Can you imagine intentionally leaving your kids unvaccinated and at risk of a harmless killer disease?

In this 1959 article in the Madera Tribune, Dr. Bundesen warns parents to take measles seriously.
In this 1959 article in the Madera Tribune, Dr. Bundesen warns parents to take measles seriously.

It is important to note that even a “mild” attack included a fever that could hit 104F or higher and, altogether the symptoms could last up to 12 days, as the cough often lingers after the rash has cleared up.

Measles is definitely contagious.
Measles is definitely contagious.

And in the pre-vaccine era, everyone ended up having measles, as it was so contagious.

Not everyone survived having measles though.

Even after improved sanitation and hygiene dropped mortality rates for measles and other diseases in the early part of the 20th Century, a lot of kids still died with measles.
Even after improved sanitation and hygiene dropped mortality rates for measles and other diseases in the early part of the 20th Century, a lot of kids still died with measles.

It was once well known that measles was not always so easy on kids.

1953 medical advice column
1953 medical advice column

Why have so many folks forgotten that fact?

Do you think that a 106F fever comes with a mild disease?
Do you think that a 106F fever comes with a mild disease?

Is it because vaccines work so well that we don’t see or hear about measles that much anymore?

Kids with measles feel awful.

At least we don’t hear about them until immunization rates drop and we start having more and more outbreaks.

Is that what it’s going to take to get you to vaccinate your kids? An outbreak in your city? Your child’s school? Or are you going to wait until your kids get sick?

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