What Is Measles

Suddenly Serious: is the increasing malevolence of measles a cynical “sales” gimmick?

Since the introduction of the MMR vaccine measles has curiously become a more serious disease than it was in the 1960s and 70s, when it was regarded by many people, including health professionals, as relatively benign childhood illnesses. The following article is taken from the Alexander Harris (refer to MMR on Trial, page 19) MMR Fact Sheet and even includes a reference to a 1991 issue of this newsletter! As well as providing evidence for the sudden increase in severity of the measles, Alexander Harris provide an astute observation on the risk/benefit ration of vaccines and vaccine safety.

The “official” perception of the childhood diseases which are the subject of the MMR or MR vaccines (Measles-Mumps-Rubella and Measles-Rubella) has modified over the years – with descriptions of the diseases increasingly emphasising their seriousness.

It is instructive to put the measles into perspective. The following extracts and summaries come from various publications over a period of almost thirty years.

Measles viewed in 1967

This extract is from a paper by Christine Miller BM B.Ch, of the National Institute for Medical Research, London published in 1967 one year before the measles vaccine was introduced on a wide scale.

MEASLES is now the commonest infectious disease of childhood in the United Kingdom. It occurs in biennial epidemics in which the total number of cases usually exceeds half a million, and between these peaks there is a continuous substantial incidence. There is no doubt that most of these cases in England today are mild, last only for a short period, are not followed by complications and are rarely fatal, but this is not the whole picture and other factors have to be considered.”

OPPOSING VIEWS: Measles is always a social nuisance whenever it occurs and nearly always an unpleasant episode for the child and the family. Most children develop measles during preschool or early school life, and when more than one child is infected at the same time it is an exhausting and trying period for the mother, especially if she goes out to work. Outbreaks in schools and hospital wards also cause waste of time and inconvenience, and there have been severe outbreaks in the Armed Forces. To the doctor an epidemic of measles means an increase in work in the late winter and early spring when he is already especially busy. A recent survey in a number of areas in this country (unpublished) showed that the majority of measles cases are visited at least twice by the general practitioner, and in many cases more than twice. This is a heavy burden on the National Health Service, which also bears the cost of antibiotics with which most cases are treated.”

In spite of these factors, some physicians consider that measles is so mild a complaint that a major effort at prevention is not justified. On the other hand, others believe that, on the whole, the implications of an epidemic are serious and that the disease should be prevented if possible. These opposing views are of topical importance in considering what use should be made of measles vaccines”1.

Measles viewed in 1979

In the well respected publication The Theory and Practice of Public Health2 it is stated:

While the infectivity of measles is still very high in all types of population and environment, the results of infection vary greatly. In Britain and many other developed countries today measles has lost much of its severity, but the disease can still sweep through virgin populations with great ferocity… On the other hand immunity is probably lifelong, and when measles has invaded an isolated community, older members have been protected by immunity acquired over sixty years earlier. In developing or underdeveloped countries measles may still cause serious complications and carry a fatality rate of up to 25 per cent.”3


Measles viewed in 1982

From The MacMillan Guide to Family Health, 1982, an authoritative health manual edited by Dr. Tony Smith the deputy editor of the British Medical Journal and published in 1982 4; and

Measles is a highly contagious disease which chiefly affects the skin and respiratory tract. It is a notifiable disease. The incubation period is 10-14 days. The first symptoms are raised temperature, runny nose, red watering eyes, dry cough and sometimes diarrhoea. By the third day the temperature falls and tiny white spots like grains of salt appear inside the mouth. On the fourth and fifth days temperature rises again and the characteristic measles rash appears, starting on the forehead and behind the ears and gradually spreading to the rest of the body but not usually the limbs. By the sixth day the rash is fading and by the seventh day all the symptoms have gone.”

In the vast majority of children who catch measles the disease disappears within 10 days and the only after effect is lifelong immunity to another attack”5 [our emphasis]


Measles viewed in 1995

In contrast, from The British Medical Association Complete Family Health Encyclopaedia published in 1995 (first published 1990). This is also edited by Dr. Tony Smith. Note the difference in emphasis and detail.

A potentially dangerous viral illness that causes a characteristic rash and a fever… Measles was once very common throughout the world occurring in epidemics. It is now less common in developed countries due to immunisation.”

Prevention of measles is important because it can have rare but serious complications…. It can also be serious, and sometimes fatal, in children with impaired immunity (such as those being treated for leukaemia and those infected with AIDs virus). In developing countries measles is still common, accounting for more than one million deaths every year, especially in malnourished children whose defences against infection are seriously impaired.”

The most common complications are ear and chest infections. Diarrhoea vomiting and abdominal pain also occur. Febrile convulsions are common with measles and are not usually serious. A serious complication, occurring in about one in a thousand cases is encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)…. Seizures and coma may follow sometimes leading to mental retardation or even death. Very rarely (in about one in a million cases) a progressive brain disorder, known as SSPE, develops years after the acute illness. Measles during pregnancy results in death of the foetus in about one fifth of the cases.”

Immunisation against measles is usually offered at about 15 months of age and produces immunity in about 97% of the cases. Side effects of the measles vaccine are generally mild.”

[no mention of any serious side effects of the vaccine]


Our reason for emphasising this apparent change in the perception of measles is to raise a question-mark over the rationale for MR or MMR vaccines.

Vaccination is an invasive procedure. Children, once vaccinated, are inevitably put at direct risk (however large or small that risk might be) of vaccination side effects. On the other hand, if nature is allowed to take its course, they may never catch all or any of the illnesses, and they certainly won’t catch all three at the same time; and if they do catch any of the illnesses, the evidence suggests that their immunity to further attacks will be far greater than is provided by any vaccine.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that catching measles actually protects children against some conditions, such as allergies. A recent trial in Guinea-Bissau found that 25.8% of participants who had the measles vaccine suffered from allergies, as opposed to 12.8% who had the wild measles.6

In the Immunisation Awareness Newsletter of December 1991, other advantages of catching measles are considered, as this passage shows:

The advent of complications during these diseases essentially depends on the age and the health of the child, as well as on treatment. We have lost the common sense and the wisdom that used to prevail in the approach to childhood diseases. Too often, instead of reinforcing the organism’s defences, fever and symptoms are relentlessly suppressed. This is not always without consequences over the development of the disease. On the other hand, given the depth to which the child’s organism is affected by the disease measles, for example, there can also be positive consequences. For the child’s organism to defeat a disease by its own means, enables it to mature its immune system and develop increased resistance. The latter will be useful for the organism against other diseases during childhood, and likewise in adulthood. Over many generations, parents, doctors, and educators have noted that children may go through an important stage of their development thanks to a childhood disease. Conditions in which heredity is a factor, such as eczema, asthma, or recurring infections of the respiratory system, may be improved or even cured after measles.”

This ‘cure potential’ of childhood diseases can be demonstrated by an example. There is a serious childhood disease affecting the kidneys, the nephrotic syndrome, in which the kidneys lose their vital excretion function as a result of disturbed immunological processes. Up until the 1960s, at the Bale University Paediatrics Clinic, artificial infection with the measles was used to treat this syndrome; this brought about at least an improvement in most cases.”7

The process of vaccination involves submission to a medical procedure for the benefit of a community; not just for oneself or one’s immediate family. Therefore, for a vaccination to be justified, there must be:

_ a serious threat from the disease(s), and

_ a significant benefit from the vaccine.

If the diseases are not as serious as they are now claimed to be (and we have found no indication that any of them has become more serious in the past 15-20 years, quite the reverse)8; and if the vaccines are more dangerous than they are admitted to be, then the risk/benefit ratio is altered. At the very least, parents should know about it.

Behind the scenes, it is acknowledged that vaccines are indeed not as safe as they could be:

The goals of immunization are to eradicate infectious diseases while minimizing morbidity caused by the vaccine, particularly to prevent neurological damage. The object of the study is to evaluate neurological complications associated with the immunization. Immunization is an important public health measure. Acute reactions warrant support for development of improved vaccines.”9

There is always room for improvement in any product, but these references to “neurological damage” and “Acute reactions” indicate that in the minds of some there is need for considerable improvement.

1  The Practitioner November 1967 pg 607. [In fairness, the article still goes on to argue that children should be vaccinated against measles, but it is interesting that the emphasis seems to be much more on the poor overworked doctor than the dangers of the disease]

2  The Theory and Practice of Public Health Edited W Hobson. 5th Edition. Oxford University Press 1979.

3  Ibid. at page 236.

4  The version we quote from is a 1985 reprint.

5  Contrast with the vaccine, which clearly does not give lifelong immunity.

6  S O Shaheen, P Aaby et al. Lancet 29 June 1996. Vol. 347 pp 1792-1796

 Comment from the Medicines Control Agency:

“There are two studies from Guinea-Bissau. The study by Shaheen et al. in the Lancet was strongly criticised because of biases and because 25% of the measles cases died from the disease. The findings of that study have not been confirmed by other workers. In their second study, Shaheen et al. do not conclude that “measles actually protects against some conditions”

7  Immunisation Awareness Society Incorporated. PO Box 56048, Dominion Road, Auckland, New Zealand. (ISSN 1170-7208). Vol. 4 No 3. Page 7. Those in the medical profession might regard this passage as being “on the fringe”, but the assertions made are backed up by several references to medical literature (as does the Lancet paper we have just cited). We will be happy to supply details of those references.

8  Live measles vaccine: a 21 year follow up. Miller Christine BM. The British Medical Journal. 1987 Jul. 4. 295(6589). pp 22 24. Note the following extract:

“During the 21 years doctors assessed more cases of measles as being mild in vaccinated than in unvaccinated participants. The difference was highly significant (p < 0.001) between 1964 and 1972, but as reported cases became fewer the difference was no longer significant. During the last nine years only five cases (three of them in the unvaccinated group and two in the group vaccinated with killed and live vaccine) were described as severe, and no complications or deaths were reported.”

9  Immunizations and brain damage. Iannetti P; Spalice A; Terenzi S; Raucci U; Parisi P. PEDIATR OGGI MED CHIR. 14/3 4 (31 36) 1994