Alright readers, this is our first venture into the discussion of childhood diseases! Today we will be learning about the measles. I know everyone has heard of these before and you probably were vaccinated back in the day, but do you really know anything about the disease?
The first reported case of the measles was recorded in 1670 by Thomas Sydenham, whose son contracted the virus. Before, measles had always been considered the same as smallpox, but this was the first time someone acknowledged the difference between the two (Axton 140). The first vaccination for the measles was created by John Enders in 1963 with improvements done in 1968 (“The Vaccine” par, 1). Due to the work of global health organization, measles was completely eradicated from the Western Hemisphere in 2002. While still prevalent in poverty stricken countries that do not have access to the vaccine, the only way the disease reappears in the west is through contact with sick people during international travel (“The Problem” par, 1). Recently there has been an increase in the number of reported cases due to a study linking the vaccine and autism, but we will get to that later.
Measles are caused by the virus rubeola. Symptoms include a skin rash that starts on the head and slowly progresses down the body until all the skin is covered. Another sign that one has contracted the disease is the appearance of Koplik’s spots, which are red bumps with blue-white centers that appear in the mouth. These outward signs of the disease are accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever and a bad cough (“Measles”). While the measles itself is not necessarily fatal it weakens the immune system and according to the group Measles Initiative, “opens the door to secondary health problems” (“The Problem” par, 3).
A subset of the measles is the German Measles, also known as by the virus name rubella. This disease differs from the simple measles in that it affects the lymph nodes along with a skin rash and fever. Like the other measles it is passed through breathing in droplets in the air but it can also be passed from pregnant women to their unborn children, where it is known as congenital rubella syndrome. This is especially dangerous because, according to kidshealth.org, rubella in the fetus can cause, “growth retardation; mental retardation; malformations of the heart and eyes; deafness; and liver, spleen, and bone marrow problems” (“Rubella” par, 8).
Through the group known as Measles Initiative there has been a major push to rid the entire world of the disease. Partnered with the Red Cross, CDC, UNICEF, and World Health Organization, Measles Initiative has worked on, “mass vaccination campaigns” centered mainly in Africa and through their work since 2001 the recorded number of measles cases there has dropped 92% (“The Solution” par, 1 and 3). By their estimate 700 million people have received vaccinations through the program. Before the initiative began, 750,000 children died each year from the measles and now that number has been reduced to 164,000 a year (“The Problem” par, 4).
Measles has come back into the news recently with a very big controversy. On February 2, 2010, a 1998 study done by British doctor Andrew Wakefield was fully retracted by Lancet, the medical journal that published it (Seeman). Wakefield claimed that the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccination caused autism. The reason for the retraction was based on claims that Wakefield falsified the study results for all twelve of his patients. The worst angle of the controversy was that Wakefield was being paid by lawyers who planned to file suit against the vaccine manufacturers. Even worse was not the realization that Wakefield had lied in an official capacity but that it scared parents away from giving their children the vaccine, which caused a spike in the number of reported cases, presenting a serious public health problem. Global health organizations are still trying to educate the public that the vaccine is safe and very necessary to prevent a large outbreak (Cohen).