Kids don’t die from measles – or so I thought

Measles. This child shows a classic day-4 rash...

Measles. This child shows a classic day-4 rash with measles. Español: sarampión Français : rougeole Português: sarampo Română: Rujeolă. Acest copil prezintă un caz clasic de ziua 4 de erupţii cutanate de rujeolă. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night Mr O and I were discussing news from back home in Nigeria and the subject of measles came up.

“Measles doesn’t kill anyone”, I blithely announced in my classic first world ignorance.

“Measles kills lots of children in Nigeria”, Mr O responded, looking at me in surprise at my ignorance and the fact we don’t have a measles problem in Australia.

Learning time for us both.  Why does a childhood virus kill in one location and not in another?  Would our kids be more susceptible if they contracted the virus here, I wondered?  Miss O 1 is adament they have all been vaccinated, so that is a relief! :)

Research time.  I remember being a kid – everyone got measles and I didn’t know of anyone who died.

To summarise everything we read, Australia has had one measles related death since 1995.  We have been vaccinating since 1971.

One UN report I read spoke of 213,000 children in African countries dying in one year.  Vaccination costs $1 per child and has dramatically reduced deaths.

In one article I saw, a doctor trained in South Africa and now living in New Zealand states New Zealanders underestimate the seriousness of measles.  The UN has recently helped vaccinate six million children in Afghanistan.

From what I managed to glean last night, children with healthy immune systems usually manage to fight off the virus.  Those with compromised immune systems, such as those in developing nations or children receiving treatment for cancer, are a different matter and measles then allows other secondary infections to take hold, such as pneumonia.  I am no medical professional and this is not a medical article!  We were just trying to understand the difference between my husband’s understanding of measles and mine.

To me measles was a typical childhood sickness that everyone got (before vaccination) and we just rested for a few days and it was all good.  A bit of panadol to control the fever, lots of fluids and protect the eyes from light.  To Mr O, measles is a serious killer.  People take the children to traditional healers in some cases.

Under-nourished bodies have compromised immune systems and I also read dehydration can be a major problem in developing nations when children get measles.  In some parts of the world hygiene is also a factor: again, lowered immune systems.  Vitamin A deficiency is also considered a contributing factor to severity.

There is also the “virgin soil” issue.  I know there are many cases of pacific islands having been exposed, in the early days of travel to this part of the world, to such illnesses as whooping-cough and measles.  With no previous exposure and therefore no immunity to these illnesses, many, many people died.

So we both learned something last night.  I probably should have known, but somehow measles had just faded from my thoughts over the years.

Did you have measles as a child?  I know I did, although I didn’t look anything like as bad as the child in the shot from Wikipedia, above.  What was your experience?

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17 comments on “Kids don’t die from measles – or so I thought

  1. […] Kids don’t die from measles – or so I thought (teamoyeniyi.com) […]


  2. No measles, chicken pox only. I was still in the kindergarten, but I remember the itch very well!
    I knew that measles could be a big problem even in the first world countries, if a woman got them while pregnant (not much would happen to the woman, but the unborn child would be a completely different matter).
    Speaking of the illnesses we don’t usually see as serious, how about flu? The ordinary one. People still die of it even in the first world countries.


    • Rubella (German Measles) is the one that is worrying for pregnant women.

      Yes, ‘flu kills every year, but in much lower numbers, I think. Really also a “winter” illness. My lot had no idea what a cold was when they got here, let alone the ‘flu. So far we have been lucky.

      Chickenpox was terrible. I was about 14 and terrified I’d lost my looks forever!


      • Yes, I meant rubella, I’m not sure about the English names of the illnesses, so I made a mistake. My bad.
        Flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people every year (in the entire world; my grandfather was one of them, a while ago), or at least that’s the data I’ve been able to find.
        It looks like those illnesses we dismiss like not so serious can do a lot more damage than those that media tries to scare us with.


      • No mistake, Angel! I was just clarifying for other readers the distinction between the measles types.

        I agree with your last paragraph. Some of these so called “minor” illnesses do regularly kill many more globally than such thinks as mad cow disease and bird flu etc.


  3. Don’t have a measles problem in Australia? – think again! http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/news/2012/20120921_00.html
    The influence of anti-vaccination proponents means an avoidable tragedy may not be that far off.


    • In reality, Jane, we would never have the same problems as in the developing world, simply because of our overall standard of health.

      By that I do NOT mean we couldn’t have A problem, though. The Doctor in NZ I linked to says much the same as your view, I believe. We underestimate the severity of measles.

      I do not subscribe to the vaccinations increase autism theory, I think vaccinations are very important, as is education so patents in developing nations know to get children vaccinated. There is still a great dependence on traditional healers in many parts of the developing world which undermines attempts to control the childhood illnesses.

      To many, western doctors wanting to “jab” their kids must be a real challenge to accept. A bit like if aliens arrived here and wanted to do something to our kids – would we trust these strange beings from another world?


  4. I remember having either measles or chicken pox. I might have been vaccinated, can’t remember, but I had also never thought of those sicknesses as dangerous or the cause of massive death in kids. I wonder if it is just as deadly for kids in first world countries if they aren’t vaccinated?


    • Just like me, Sami. I never thought of them as deadly diseases either, apart fromt he virgin soil examples, which I knew of from New Zealand history. I think one of the island nations planned to or did sue New Zealand.

      If they are vaccinated, Sami, they don’t catch measles. It isn’t as deadly in first world countries unless the kids fall into one of the high risk groups, such as cancer patients. We have better immunity due, primarily, to better nutrition and better hygiene (clean drinking water, for example).

      Vaccination is even more important in developing nations due to the higher risk of secondary infections.


  5. I can’t remember measles but i guess I must have had it. I had no idea it was a potential killer and I’m horrified that it can be prevented with a vaccine, awareness is all.


  6. Thank you for this Robyn. So many parents in my country (US) are refusing to vaccinate their children, saying that the illnesses (measles, mumps and rubella among others) are not serious. People also erroneously blame the rise in autism on vaccines.

    My mother remembers the days when schools were closed, and children did die because of these illnesses (as well as polio, etc.). We may have access to vaccines and treatment, but when we refuse to use them, the “wall of immunity” crumbles and children at highest risk are put at even greater risk! Mr. O should come here and give a talk!


  7. I don’t remember if I had measles, mumps, or chicken pox . . . or received vaccinations. I do know that the healthier we are, the healthier we stay.

    Interesting post, Robyn.


    • Nancy, I certainly DO remember having all three. Chickenposx was particularly upsetting for me, as I was about 15 at the time and thought I’d never look pretty again! :lol: I remember having the measles too. The mumps I was quite young, so don’t have a clear recollection, but I do remember.

      I’m not sure what vaccinations were around when I was a child, but I certainly remember taking my older two for vaccinations in the 70s.

      Both got chickenpox – I don’t think we vaccinated for chickenpox back then.


  8. It’s amazing how much we take for granted, isn’t it? The fact that it costs so little to prevent these senseless deaths and it still doesn’t get done is appalling.


    • It is indeed, Erin. I was surprised at myself for not really knowing measles is as serious an illness as it is in some situations. Clearly a healthy body is the best defence, in which case it is a relatively harmless childhood virus.

      In other situations? Clearly very, very serious and resulting in a lot of deaths.


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