There’s a lot of conversation about measles these days, in the US anyway. Here’s my story….
I got miserably sick with fever, and then a rash started showing up. Mom took me to the doctor. The bewildering diagnosis was measles. It was bewildering because–
- No one gets measles (or so I thought); and
- As a child, I had been vaccinated against measles. My immunization records confirmed it.
The assumption was made that the vaccine failed, or the pediatrician’s staff had noted the immunization in my records but forgot to actually administer the vaccine.
It was the most miserable I’ve ever been in my life, and scary.
- There were the typical symptoms of being sick–Achy and miserable all over, nose, throat and relentless cough; no energy for anything but bed rest.
- Itchy, burning rash–The rash covered my entire body, and itched and burned like mad, day and night.
- High Fever—persistent, deadly high temperatures.
- Ice baths–The high fever had to be controlled with intermittent freezing cold ice baths.
- Night sweats–I learned to love them, because it meant the fever was breaking, or something like that. Confession: I still love night sweats to this day, because I remember the relief it brought.
- The misery lasted about a month, with 2+ weeks being absolute round-the-clock hell.
The rash made me really ugly.
- The rash was thick, soft and red, and covered my entire body; face, arms, legs, and torso. Visualize the worse case of acne, chicken pox and poison ivy ever seen, and then fill in any open spaces with more rash.
- My dad teased me about how bad I looked and asked if I was going on a date. (Yeah, thanks, Dad. :p )
- The rash didn’t disappear when the other symptoms finally did. It was basically a massive number of sores that took their own time to heal.
- Even after the sores healed, the rash left dark, blotchy shadows on my face and body, under the skin. It took weeks and weeks for the shadows to fade away gradually.
I could have infected lots of other people because I didn’t know I had a highly-contagious, potentially deadly virus.
The 16-year-old me did all of these things on a regular basis:
- Worked at a fast food restaurant
- Went to school every day
- Went shopping (tried on clothing, shoes and jewelry, and tested makeup)
- Went swimming with friends
- Hung out at friends’ homes
- Ate at restaurants
- Dated boys (and kissed them)
- Cared for my toddler brother at home (feeding, dressing, child’s play, etc.)
- My mom was pregnant at the time with our baby brother, or she got pregnant soon after that.
Who knows where I came in contact with the measles virus, but the list above indicates it could have been anywhere. Kids and teenagers are constantly in contact with the world.
From the Mayo Clinic on how measles is spread:
- Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult.
- When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where other people can inhale them.
- The infected droplets may also land on a surface, where they remain active and contagious for several hours.
- You can contract the virus by putting your fingers in your mouth or nose or rubbing your eyes after touching the infected surface.
- About 90 percent of susceptible people who are exposed to someone with the virus will be infected.
When I finally healed, it was complete. I was lucky. Some common complications from measles are dangerous and/or permanent.
From the Mayo website on common complications from measles:
- Ear problems. One of the most common complications of measles is a bacterial ear infection. Permanent hearing impairment can result.
- Bronchitis, laryngitis or croup. Measles may lead to inflammation of your voice box (larynx) or inflammation of the inner walls that line the main air passageways of your lungs (bronchial tubes).
- Pneumonia. Pneumonia is a common complication of measles. People with compromised immune systems can develop an especially dangerous variety of pneumonia that is sometimes fatal.
- Encephalitis. About 1 in 1,000 people with measles develops a complication called encephalitis. Encephalitis may occur right after measles, or it might not occur until months later.
- Pregnancy problems. If you’re pregnant, you need to take special care to avoid measles because the disease can cause preterm labor, low birth weight and maternal death
Did I mention having measles was the most miserable I’ve ever been in my life? It was. Scary, too. I don’t want to ever feel like that again. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Can I get measles again? I asked my doc that this week, and the answer was “maybe”. My choices are to get a test to see if I have the antibodies, or skip the test and go ahead and get the vaccine. I’ve decided to get the test first, mainly to satisfy my curiosity. Stay tuned….
More information on measles:
- The Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/measles/symptoms-causes/syc-20374857
- Wikipedia on measles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measles
- A BBC article from last month, on measles in the US: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48468801 The article contains this picture that breaks my heart. This child is in misery, and danger.
Next post shall be a return to more fun topics.
16 thoughts on “I had measles as a teenager.”
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I got Chicken Pox in my early 20’s. I was surprised because I had no idea what it was when I got it or where I even got it from. It was painful!
How awful! Interesting you should mention Chicken Pox, because it is the next one I’m going to address with my doc. I’m not sure of that immunity either. I can’t believe I’m still having to worry about these things!
I read that one reason why immunity seems to fail these days, is that the viruses have mutated a bit. They still cause the same illness but manage to fool the immune system enough so as not to get recognised straight away – and that’s enough to get sick. 😦
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Great post to get the news out. Thank you! I remember getting chick pox after my children caught it. There was no chicken pox vaccine for them or I would have got it for them. They were young and managed through it. I caught it and, I was 37 years old, spent a week in bed. I don’t remember much of it. One if my children ran in once and said “mommy are you alive?” Gramma ran in right after him and got him out. If it wasn’t for her I don’t know what I would have done!
Thanks! I can only imagine your misery at having adult chicken pox. If only we could get rid of these awful viruses for good.
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At least as an adult I understood what was happening and had more patience. I thought the only way to eradicate was to vaccinate? 🤔 sad situation indeed.
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That was terrible to have it at that age…especially socially. Did you infect anyone else that you know of? I don’t remember ever getting them. I had Chicken Pox and all I remember is pink medicine everywhere on me. It was in first grade a lot of the class had it. I’ve heard of people throwing Chicken Pox parties where all the neighborhood kids will get it at a young age…of course, the measles is much much worse.
The social bit actually didn’t matter much until I finally felt okay again but still looked awful. Until that point, I was only concerned about whether I was going to feel better. Those Chicken Pox parties make me nervous! I get the idea of scheduling the inevitable illness, vs the disruption of having it show up unexpected. But wow, that still leaves a lot of potentially bad variables for the child and parents. One thing I’ve noticed is that people think of Chix Pox and measles as being similar. As you say, they are way different, apart from both having red sores, and measles is much more dangerous. That said, there’s a tie between CP and Shingles, and I know for a fact that I never, ever want Shingles.
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Chicken Pox mostly just itched…that is all I remember from it. Yes it is kind of creepy throwing a party for a sickness. Like you…I get it but still. Our son Bailey had pneumonia at 3 years old…went to the Doctor for it and caught chicken pox while there. It was not a fun time.
I’ve known people with Shingles and I’ve been told it is awful…of course what illness isn’t awful but still. I’ve never had them, measles, or the mumps but I know at our age it’s more dangerous.
All this talk about measles got me thinking about smallpox. I don’t have that round scar on my arm but I just read where they stopped giving smallpox vaccinations in 1972…I was born in 67…I thought it was mandatory. Sorry for shifting gears here.
I had a really light case of the chicken pox, and didn’t even feel sick with it, which is why I worry about whether I got immunity from it. I do remember the itching, though. My bro got a bad case of CP, and now he can get a bout of shingles if he lets himself get run down. Shingles sounds to me like it’s way worse than catching a run-of-the-mill bug. I don’t want to find out. That was an awful way for your son to get Chicken Pox. Poor little guy…and parents.
I didn’t ever get mumps that I know of, either. I think I got that vaccine, but also I was that healthy kid who didn’t always catch the illnesses everyone else was getting. So getting measles later on was some real karma at work, haha. I did get the smallpox circle on the upper arm. It was visible for years, but not now. I didn’t know until recently that they had stopped giving that vaccine back then. I got it so young that I don’t remember getting it; I just remember having the spot on the arm.
I had mumps at 15, it was quite violent and lasted for six weeks. The worst part is that if you get it as a teenager or later, it can leave you infertile. Impotent even, for boys – it kills the testes. For girls, it “only” leaves cystes in the ovaries which may or may not interfere with egg cell production. And it gives you nasty painful periods. Getting it at 15, this means effectively for your whole adult life… Ugh! Not recommended. I don’t think there is a vaccine against mumps, or at least there wasn’t one when I was growing up. I had all the vaccines that were available (against the really awful stuff like scarlet fever, smallpox, polio, etc., oh, and measles).
Mumps sounds awful, and dangerous. It certainly was for you. We have a mumps vaccine in the US. It is the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella). I think it’s been around since the 1970s. It’s the one that apparently failed for me with measles.
May be I was vaccinated then but it didn’t work! Or may be I just missed the vaccine and got the old version without the mumps (I predate 1970s 😉). That disease is not so dangerous for young kids – they don’t get the complications if they get mumps before puberty. I didn’t go to the nursery as a young child (thanks, grandma!), so I missed all those childhood infections that are really better had in childhood. I also had chicken pox at 25 – not dangerous, but it adds insult to injury at that age!
It was indeed a mixed blessing; your not going to the nursery. (It’s lovely you could be cared for by your grandmother.) But the grown-up versions of all of these diseases are dangerous, it seems.
I’m really sorry you were so sick, it must have been horrible! Thank you so much for sharing this, stories like yours are so important for people to hear.
This is something I never talk about, but my mom was an anti-vaxxer in the 80’s and 90’s before these kinds of conversations were starting to happen publically. My sisters and I weren’t vaccinated and were rarely taken to doctors when we little, even for checkups. As much as I love her, that was an area where she was definitely extremely misguided, to put it mildly. I really wish she had heard stories like yours and had taken them to heart.
After she passed away all of my sisters and I started getting caught up on our vaccines and I’m going to make sure to get tested to see what I may or may not have antibodies for so I can make sure to get any and all vaccines I may be missing. This post was an excellent reminder to do that as soon as possible, especially since my city is in the middle of a measles outbreak.
Just in case any parents who are anti-vax read this comment, take it from an adult child of an anti-vaxxer: your child won’t thank you for not vaccinating them. All you are doing is unintentionally neglecting their health and putting them and others in potential danger. Please, please, please, vaccinate your children.