Disease Complications Are Severe: My Story
I shudder when I hear there is a measles outbreak in 2019—in the United States.
In an earlier story for another paper, I wrote how author Roald Dahl’s daughter died of encephalitis caused by measles–and how he urged children be vaccinated. Then, I was attacked by anti-vaccinationists. At the risk of being attacked again, I offer my story.
When I was eight, my father, a teacher, had taken the family with him to summer school in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The only place my parents could find to rent was a two-bedroom upstairs apartment (no air conditioning).
Midway through the summer, my brother got sick and was taken to the hospital. There, my parents were told that he had measles and to take him home because there was nothing that could be done for him–and they didn’t want him there because the disease was so contagious.
According to one medical source “Measles virus is so infectious that if an unvaccinated person walks through a room up to two hours after someone with measles has left, there’s a 90 percent chance that person will get sick. People can spread measles for four days before and four days after the telltale rash.”
My brother had a high fever and a rash, and eventually recuperated, but not before passing the disease onto me and my three sisters.
I remember feeling worse and worse. The light hurt my eyes. I felt pain and ached. I was so tired, I couldn’t lift my hand, I couldn’t walk. I was so hot, I started to sweat.
I was put in a darkened room, with a fan. Thankfully, sleep/unconsciousness took over and I don’t remember much else for more than a week.
There are brief glimpses of memories. I remember mom putting a cold washcloth on my head, but then everything turned black. I learned later that a measles fever can run as high as 104 to 105.8.
“You were really out of it, I was really worried,” my mom would later tell me. “For two days, you couldn’t walk, I had to carry you to the bathroom.”
She had to hold me up, while I was on the toilet because I couldn’t sit up by myself. “You couldn’t eat, I made sure you had plenty of water,” she said. Helplessly, she said there was nothing else she could do. “You were really sick.”
I remember a few blurred snapshots of the week. It was as if a photo were taken and then everything would go black, and I would go back under.
I remember being put in a bathtub filled with cold water, but then the light in my brain clicked off. Once I remember waking up as mom tried to give me water, and seeing the light from a street light came through the window, but then it was black.
Slowly, I came back. I finally could sit up. Then I could walk. Even though the bathroom was only across the hall it took all my energy to make it there, before I went back to bed and slept.
My siblings came through okay, but our neighbor’s kid was not as lucky. After being sick with measles, he was left blind and deaf.
My eyesight, which had been perfect before measles, was now blurred and I needed glasses. And for the next couple of years, it seems as if I was constantly sick. Two years later my tonsils were taken out in an effort to try and control my almost constant sore throats.
I called my mom, yesterday, and asked her about that summer. She said she was so worried–but didn’t want to think about how sick we were—and that we might die.
“I prayed,” she said, simply. There was nothing else she could do because the hospital had made it clear we were not be brought there.
The Center for Disease Control warns that for every 1,000 children who get measles one or two will die from it.
Why weren’t we immunized for measles? The vaccine didn’t exist then.
With my three children, I had heard about the vaccine causing autism, but couldn’t find scientific proof to back it.
But, I had measles and knew the statistics about deafness and blindness—and death. My children were vaccinated.
The CDC recommends children get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age.
The vaccination program started in 1963, and for adults born before 1957 most people caught measles and have natural immunity.
People born between 1957 and 1989 generally only had one MMR dose. One dose is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles, but anyone can get a second dose.
“Major outbreaks also are taking place in parts of the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Japan,” said Emory University infection disease expert Saad Omer, who was quoted in The Washington Post story “Unaware He Had Measles, a Man Traveled from N.Y. to Michigan, Infecting 39 People.”
The story reported that “More than 1,200 people have died in Madagascar. With spring break and summer vacations approaching, travelers visiting European countries with outbreaks, such as France and Italy, have a much higher chance of bringing infections back to ‘islands or pockets of vulnerability.’”
Measles can lead to deafness and other complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). The disease can trigger long-term vision problems and even blindness because it can lead to the inflammation and scarring of the cornea.
In a 2015 story in Discover “Measles Weakens the Immune System for Years,” Princeton researcher Michael J. Mina reported “When a child gets infected with measles, it has been known for decades that during the weeks and months following infection the child is at very high risk of other infections. Our work further suggests that that elevated risk may last for years, or as long as it takes to retrain the immune system.”
“When the secondary effects on other infectious disease mortality is taken into account, it appears that the measles vaccine is amongst the – if not the – single greatest public health intervention worldwide, resulting in the largest reduction in childhood deaths perhaps except for clean water and the whole field of antibiotic therapy,” Mina said.