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Advice to Parents on Childhood Measles Part I

Measles is on the increase due to a reluctance by parents to allow their children to have the MMR vaccine. The early stages are similar to many other diseases, yet measles kills children. Part I of this article explains why measles parties are not a good idea, and why measles is a dangerous infection.

Measles is caused by a virus of the influenza family. The initial measles symptoms are a bit like a bad cold or flu, but with a rash! The vast majority of parents do not know what measles really is, other than being a childhood illness. They know it has a rash and is infectious, but that’s about it. They have probably never seen it and don’t know anyone who has had it. Most doctors would not recognise measles symptoms until the rash appeared, never having come across it. This is due to the measles vaccination program which was superseded by the MMR vaccine.

I have even heard of parents arranging measles parties, where young children are sent to visit others who have measles in order that they catch it. This is going back to the immediate post World War 2 era when immunity was gained by catching the disease. I was brought up in the 1950s and early 1960s and remember mumps parties and German measles parties so that children would be immune to these diseases as adults, but not measles parties.

The reason for this is that mumps can damage the male reproductive system ( and, not so well known, the ovaries as well) if contracted after puberty, and German measles is very dangerous to the developing fetus. In children, however, they are relatively mild diseases. Painful and uncomfortable, perhaps, but not what you would call killer diseases. German measles is not a type of measles. The word ‘German’ probably comes from a Latin word, germanus, meaning ‘similar’ since the symptoms are similar to those of measles.

Measles kill, so we never had measles parties. In fact back in the 1940s and 1950s it was a major killer. In England alone 5,677 children died in the 1940s. Nobody wanted their kids to catch measles back in these days. I have read that measles parties were common then, but I never came across one. We were always told to keep away from anyone who had measles – at least until they went back to school. Some never went back.

Since the measles vaccine, which became available in 1963, and MMR which was licensed in the USA in 1971 (1972 in the UK), the disease has become uncommon in developed countries, and parents have become blasé about it. This is the only reason I can think of for them concluding that measles parties are better for their children than the vaccine. If it does not kill, it can have some very nasty side effects. It is without a doubt the most dangerous children’s rash-producing disease.

Measles is still one of the major causes of death in children worldwide (over 600,000 have been reported) and it is almost as contagious as smallpox. Children have around a 99% chance of contracting the disease if they come into contacted with an infected person. The main cause of death in around 60% of measles cases is pneumonia.

If it does not kill your children they have a high chance of hearing problems, and worse, a much higher than average chance of contracting meningitis or encephalitis. The chances of this are only 1 in a 1000, but you don’t want your son or daughter to be that one. I know, because my son was that one. He contracted meningitis and encaphilitis shortly after receiving a measles vaccination, but I still prompted my daughter to allow her son to have the MMR vaccine. The disease is far more dangerous than the vaccine. He had it and all was well. My son's story is on my website.

In part two of this article, I will explain the symptoms and in what order they can be expected, to help parents who are unsure what they should do or when to call a doctor.

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Peter Nisbet is an honours degree research chemist who took an interest in childhood diseases when his son had encephalitis and meningitis shortly after receiving a measles vaccination. You can learn more about measles on writes about a variety of children's illnesses on

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