TORONTO – In 1962, Roald Dahl lost his seven-year-old daughter, Olivia, to measles. As the number of measles cases across North America slowly grows, the famous author’s painful letter urging fellow parents to vaccinate their kids has resurfaced.
The letter, published in 1988 in a Sandwell Health Authority pamphlet, came 20 years after her death.
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Read some of the letter below. The full letter is posted on his website.
Measles: A Dangerous Illness
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it.
Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In 12 hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her.
That was 24 years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles.
I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk.
In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.
Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year.
Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.
While a measles outbreak that originated out of Disneyland in the U.S. is slowly growing, health officials in Toronto say they’ve confirmed an outbreak in Canada’s largest city.
There are four cases of measles in Toronto, half of which are children under two years old. The other two are adults from different families, Toronto Public Health said in a statement Monday morning.
Toronto Public Health has not yet identified a source case or made a known connection between the four cases. It said the risk to the general public is low and advises people to check their immunization records.
In the U.S., nearly 100 cases have been reported in Michigan, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Nebraska.
At this same time last year, outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and mumps were widely reported across Canada and into the U.S. The thing is, these diseases are preventable with vaccines.
Last April, Alberta dealt with another whooping cough outbreak. In B.C., the Fraser Valley has seen measles cases rise to more than 300. Meanwhile, pockets of cases have broken out in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
Don’t forget last Christmas’ mumps outbreak within the NHL.
Doctors are pointing to one culprit: a steadily growing anti-vaccination movement.