Measles in your teens
Claire Evans asks whether vaccination is changing the timing of this disease
I find the people strangely fantasied; Possess’d with rumours, full of idle dreams, Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear.
– ‘King John’ by William Shakespeare
Over supper last summer, Emma gave me the account of her experience of all three of her daughters suffering measles. Little did I realise at the time just how useful that conversation would turn out to be. In October, I found myself nursing both my non-vaccinated children through measles.
I felt confident about the nursing of measles and we all embraced the experience, and, like Emma, I believe that both children have gained physically from the disease. It can, however, be alarming. For Emma it was the most alarming of the childhood diseases that she has encountered, although I would still put whooping cough in the number one slot. But more disturbing than the disease itself were the reactions and behaviour it threw up around it. Emma had told me about the shocking incident when a fellow parent at the Steiner school her youngest daughter attended tried to get Emma’s daughter banned from school. Curiously, this parent’s own child was vaccinated – so what do we imagine she was afraid of?
There seems to be much confusion around the whole issue of measles, which I believe renders rational behaviour more elusive. I was born at the beginning of the 1960s and we all had the full gamut of childhood diseases. Our mothers simply got on with it. By the time I gave birth to my eldest child in 1996, the waters had become truly muddied. All mothers that year were given the new edition of the Health Education Authority’s Birth to Five publication, which I subsequently squirrelled away. I found it very useful the day my daughter was sitting at our kitchen table with the most startling blotchy red rash all over her face. Very calmly it described in a helpful table of childhood illnesses exactly the symptoms my daughter had been exhibiting and in equally measured language it gave some helpful advice on nursing the child during the illness. That was on pages 88 and 89. Turning to page 91, however, under the Immunisation section, I am being told, “Measles can be fatal.” What on earth is any parent to make of that? Our instincts as parents are hard-wired to protect, and protect fiercely when necessary.
I encountered further confusion when I compliantly phoned my GP to report that my daughter had measles, a notifiable disease. The GP returned my call and asked us to come into the surgery so they could check my diagnosis. I pointed out that if, as I strongly believed, she had measles, surely coming into the surgery would be potentially putting other people at risk, setting aside the fact that she was very ill in bed. They were not prepared to make a home visit and so we left it at that, with them agreeing with my diagnosis. The next thing that happened was a phone call from the faintly Orwellian-sounding Health Protection Agency, who were naturally keen to discuss my daughter’s vaccination status. I explained that she was vaccination-free, and was extremely baffled and concerned when I was informed that my daughter had had two courses of MMR. I insisted that she had not had a single vaccination in her 15 years. The caller insisted that it was on her records, at which point I insisted that in that case he should amend those records immediately, as they were wrong. How did they come to be wrong, I wonder. Incompetence? Fraud? I did not bother sharing with my GP when my son also came down with measles.
Emma came out the other side of measles with greater understanding of the people who choose to vaccinate. I think I have come out simply more frustrated. It seems to me that questions should be asked about why it is that measles is happening in the teen years instead of when children are younger. Could it be that the vaccination does not, unlike having the disease itself, confer lifelong immunity? Could it be that vaccinating our young children is pushing the disease into the teen years? My worry is that the response to that might be to introduce booster courses of the vaccination for teenagers, which might in turn push the disease into the child-bearing years. About that potential nightmare we should indeed be “full of fear”.
I experienced, like Emma, normally right-minded fellow parents behaving as if the medieval plague had reached Guildford. Suggestions were made that my daughter remain away from her study groups long after, according to medical professionals, she had ceased to be infectious. Fear was expressed by a tutor that her grandchild might be under threat. How? All this was deeply frustrating and at times enraging. At the time I was angry and hurt by the individual behaviour. With perspective restored by time, I am more frustrated. People are indeed “strangely fantasied” when it comes to measles (which even sounds medieval) but that is the fault of the politicking indulged in by the medical profession and big pharma companies, which denies open and sensible debate about just how dangerous the disease is.
Emma Hiwaizi remembers her family’s “surreal spring”
My daughter was a few months old when I started serious research into vaccination. I had studied natural sciences at Cambridge so was looking forward to the research and hoped to be able to make a genuinely informed choice. There seemed to be two sides at war with one another and I could find absolutely no meaningful dialogue between the two. There was no way of actually comparing the risks and benefits of vaccinating with the risks and benefits of not vaccinating. In the end we did vaccinate against polio, diphtheria and tetanus and chose to avoid the others; a compromise that worked for us.
Something that struck me most strongly was the discussion around the measles vaccine. Vaccinating against measles involves injecting a live virus directly into the muscle*. This bypasses years of evolution. Is that a good idea?
Additionally, from my reading of articles in publications such as What Doctors Don’t Tell You,1 it appeared that those most at risk from measles are undernourished children, especially in the developing world. My children were not likely to be undernourished. I also read about the benefits of supplementing with Vitamin A and the risks of suppressing symptoms with paracetamol. Therefore, I was pretty confident in my decision not to vaccinate with MMR.
Measles did not strike until Spring 2011, when my daughters were 11, 15 and 17. The first to become ill was my 15-year-old. She came home from school one Monday and went straight to bed. On the Tuesday she had a sore throat, headache and temperature and spent most of the day in bed sleeping soundly. On the Wednesday she developed a rash on her face, which had spread all over her body by the Friday. By the Saturday she had a high temperature and a very sore throat and was covered from head to toe in red blotches. I was alarmed by the high temperature and not sure what to do. Our GP had advised paracetamol – high temperatures can be dangerous – but there is also the realisation that the temperature is the body’s way of fighting disease and that to suppress it is to risk complications. In the end I used a mixture of homeopathy and paracetamol. My daughter also chose to take antibiotics for her cough and sore throat. It is possible that by using paracetamol we complicated matters and that it was this that contributed to her secondary infection. By the following Monday the rash was fading. The worst was over. But it took some time to rebuild her strength.
After two weeks my other two daughters both developed symptoms, with their illnesses taking exactly the same trajectory as their sister’s. My youngest daughter was vomiting and struggling to keep down any fluids; she had diarrhoea, a headache, a sore throat and a hot rash and was so weak that I had to help her sit up to drink and eat.
It took my eldest daughter four months to recover her strength. A week after she had been up and about she woke with very sore eyes. She could not go anywhere where there was light as her eyes hurt too much. She wore sunglasses in the communal areas of the house, but otherwise she was back to bed for complete darkness and rest. Our GP told me all I could do was hope it did not get any worse and obviously thought I was wrong for not vaccinating. My homeopath was very calm and reassuring and gave me remedies to help my daughter clear the measles from her system. Her eyes are now thankfully fine – but it was a very intense and worrying time. I had no idea how to nurse sick children and had forgotten all that I had read about paracetamol and Vitamin A. Having two sick children to care for at the same time was physically and emotionally draining. I was exhausted!
I am still glad I chose not to vaccinate. I think all three of my girls have been strengthened by the measles and I am grateful that I was able to stay at home and look after them. It was a surreal spring. Outside was glorious and sunny and for over a month we were at home in the dark. It was a challenging and sometimes lonely experience. I now have much more respect for families who do choose to vaccinate. I think I was very naive about what measles involved, just how ill children can get and how easy it is for secondary complications to set in. In our house the girls had whooping cough, mumps and chicken pox without a murmur, but measles was in a different league. It was hard to find useful information about how to best care for them and it was utterly exhausting. My eldest daughter was angry that she was ill and missed crucial revision time. I think she will probably vaccinate her children. But I would do it all again, though I would give them Vitamin A and I would probably not let them use their laptops when they were meant to be resting in complete darkness. I think it is a shame that we have lost the art of nursing; I certainly felt I was making it up as I went along.
- Lynne McTaggart, What Doctors Don’t Tell You: The Truth about the Dangers of Modern Medicine (Thorsons, 2005)
*04 August 2016 – Article corrected by editor. The word ‘bloodstream’ has been replaced by ‘muscle’.
Claire Evans is a former JUNO Home Ed columnist. Emma Hiwaizi is a former co-editor of JUNO, lives in Brighton and divides her time between being a mum, teaching laughter yoga and doing freelance editorial. (Accurate at the time this issue went to print).
Illustration by Veronika Petrie – www.illustration.webeden.co.uk
First published in Issue 28 (Summer 2012) of JUNO: