The measles virus is not a benign childhood disease
My kid brother could not have been more than five years old when one of those “benign” childhood illnesses led to double pneumonia. Doctors did make limited house calls in those days and since Kenny could not get out of bed, drifting in and out of a troubled sleep, our family physician visited our home to treat him. There may have been antibiotics involved, but if so, I don’t remember what they were.
I do remember the tension in the house as we waited to see if he would pull through. Since I was 11 or 12 years old at the time, I took my turn at his bedside to relieve our mother, who could then prepare meals for the rest of the family. Somebody had to be with him 24 hours a day, ensuring that the makeshift tent made of sheets that contained the medicinal-smelling air from the vaporizer remained over his head. Even now, the smell of eucalyptus brings back the memories of sitting in that dimly lit room, listening to his strained breathing and wondering if he would ever again run down to the creek on a muddy spring day.
My own attack from the measles had occurred years earlier, before Kenny had even been born. I remember that my father came home from work one night with a gift for me. My father never brought me gifts. But apparently I was sick enough that he was willing to make an exception and gave me a children’s book. I couldn’t read it of course, because my bedroom was kept in darkness. Measles can lead to blindness, we were taught, and even if it didn’t, the light still hurt my eyes. I remember the pain, and the sore throat that made swallowing the rare glass of ginger ale so very difficult. And then there was the boredom as I began to recover. It was hard to stay in bed all day with the lights off.
In 1954, at about the same time that I was suffering the effects of measles:
Thomas C. Peebles, a World War II bomber pilot turned doctor, isolated the measles virus in an infected 11-year-old boy named David Edmonston. Peebles’ work paved the way for a vaccine.
The first vaccine came out in 1963. In those days, parents were thrilled to know that they could protect their children from the ravages of this virus, just as they were when the polio vaccine was introduced.