Why was measles considered an obligatory illness for a child? What is the danger of measles for a child? Are there guarantees against serious complications? Under what conditions can measles be defeated?
“Disease of unique spread” – this is what measles was called by the largest Soviet epidemiologist L. V. Gromashevsky. Precisely because susceptibility to measles is almost one hundred percent, few have managed to avoid this infection in childhood. So there was an idea that every child should transfer measles, “What should not be avoided,” the parents thought. And did not seek to protect the child from measles. In ancient times, there was even a custom: if one child fell ill in a family, healthy people were put to bed next to him in order to “get off at once.”
Against the background of other deadly infections that were widespread at that time, measles might perhaps have seemed harmless. But it does not always end happily. According to world statistics, in the 60s of our century every year on the globe this infection claimed 3 million lives.
The main danger of measles is. that it dramatically reduces the protective forces of a child, especially a small and weakened one, and this paves the way for a secondary bacterial infection, most often causing pneumonia or otitis media.
As a rule, they manage to cope with bacterial complications of measles, although for young children weakened by chronic diseases, they pose a considerable danger.
But there is one serious, although rare, fortunately, complication, against which there are no effective remedies so far. This is encephalitis due to the effects of measles virus on the brain. It is impossible to predict the occurrence of such a complication or interrupt its development, and the consequences are sometimes tragic.
In recent years, it has also become clear that measles virus is able in some cases and after recovery to persist for a long time in the body, penetrating into the brain tissue. In this case, a severe, slowly progressing disease of the central nervous system develops – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.
Scientists have long sought to find a measure of measles prevention. To some extent, the disease can be alleviated or even prevented with gamma globulin containing anti-measles antibodies. But, firstly, it is effective only if it is administered to the child in the incubation period of the disease, that is, when the infection has already occurred and the disease has not yet developed. It is not always possible to catch this moment – measles is an extremely volatile airborne infection, for infection it is enough to have a passing contact with the patient, which you just don’t know about.
In addition, gamma globulin, even if it was administered on time, protects from the disease for a short time. The protein structures contained in it break down after about three weeks, and again the child is not protected against measles.
Radically solves the problem of preventing this infection only a preventive vaccine. Creating measles vaccine is a big victory for medical science. And that goal. which used to seem so far away – the complete elimination of measles – has now become quite real.
The success of measles vaccination is explained by the fact that its causative agent is a persistent virus, it does not change its properties during circulation, like, for example, the influenza virus. The source of infection is only a sick person, and the disease has quite pronounced signs, its asymptomatic forms are not. In many other diseases, the source of infection can also be a healthy person – a carrier of a virus or bacteria, with measles this is not. Therefore, if there are no patients and there is no reservoir of measles virus, it disappears in this territory.
But, as the experience of several countries shows, a sharp decrease in the incidence, and even more so elimination of measles, is possible only when the number of people immune to this infection exceeds 90%, which is why now the main efforts of the health authorities of a number of countries and the World Health Organization are aimed at expansion of vaccination, improvement of vaccines.
In the former Soviet Union, measles preventive vaccines were first started in the late 60s, and this immediately reduced the incidence by 6–7 times. However, since the first series of vaccines sometimes caused, although not dangerous, but rather pronounced reactions, doctors gave (by the way, insufficiently justified) the rejection of vaccinations for many children. Therefore, a new sharp decrease in the incidence has not yet occurred.
Today, doctors have a high-quality preventive vaccine. The reactions that it causes are insignificant, so the rejection of vaccinations is justified only in rare cases.
Unfortunately, some parents, having heard from the doctor that after vaccination the temperature may rise or a slight malaise appear, begin to hesitate: maybe you should not get the vaccine after all?