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?