Roald Dahl’s Daughter Olivia Died From Measles

Olivia Dahl Died of Measles
Olivia Dahl Died of Measles

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 twelve 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 twenty-four 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.


Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.

The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.

Roald Dahl, 1988

Measles: Questions and Answers

Information about Measles and Vaccines

What causes measles?

Measles is caused by a virus.

How does measles spread?

Measles is spread from person to person through the air by infectious droplets; it is highly contagious.

How long does it take to show signs of measles after being exposed?

It takes an average of 10–12 days from exposure to the first symptom, which is usually fever. The measles rash doesn’t usually appear until approximately 14 days after exposure, 2–3 days after the fever begins.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, loss of appetite, “pink eye,” and a rash. The rash usually lasts 5–6 days and begins at the hairline, moves to the face and upper neck, and proceeds down the body.

How serious is measles?

Measles can be a serious disease, with 30% of reported cases experiencing one or more complications. Death from measles occurs in 2 to 3 per 1,000 reported cases in the United States. Complications from measles are more common among very young children (younger than five years) and adults (older than 20 years).

What are possible complications from measles?

Measles - Connecticut Health Officer
Measles – Connecticut Health Officer

Diarrhea is the most common complication of measles (occurring in 8% of cases), especially in young children. Ear infections occur in 7% of reported cases. Pneumonia, occurring in 6% of reported cases, accounts for 60% of measles-related deaths. Approximately one out of one thousand cases will develop acute encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. This serious complication can lead to permanent brain damage.

Measles during pregnancy increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage, and low-birth-weight infants, although birth defects have not been linked to measles exposure.

Measles can be especially severe in persons with compromised immune systems. Measles is more severe in malnourished children, particularly those with vitamin A deficiency. In developing countries, the fatality rate may be as high as 25%.

How is measles diagnosed?

Measles is diagnosed by a combination of the patient’s symptoms and by laboratory tests.

Is there a treatment for measles?

There is no specific treatment for measles. People with measles need bed rest, fluids, and control of fever. Patients with complications may need treatment specific to their problem.

How long is a person with measles contagious?

Measles is highly contagious and can be transmitted from four days before the rash becomes visible to four days after the rash appears.

What should be done if someone is exposed to measles?

Notification of the exposure should be communicated to a doctor. If the person has not been vaccinated, measles vaccine may prevent disease if given within 72 hours of exposure. Immune globulin (a blood product containing antibodies to the measles virus) may prevent or lessen the severity of measles if given within six days of exposure.

How common is measles in the United States?

Measles Town Health Officer
Measles Town Health Officer

Before the vaccine was licensed in 1963, there were an estimated 3–4 million cases each year. In the years following 1963, the number of measles cases dropped dramatically, with only 1,497 cases in 1983, the lowest annual total reported up to that time.

By 2004, only 37 cases were reported—a record low. However, new cases continue to be reported, primarily in populations that have refused vaccination for religious or personal belief reasons. From 2001 through 2011, an average of 63 measles cases (range, 37 to 220) and four outbreaks were reported each year in the United States.

Of the 911 cases, a total of 372 (41%) were imported from outside the U.S. and an additional 432 (47%) were associated with importations. Hospitalization was reported for 225 (25%) cases. Two deaths were reported. Most cases occur among people who declined vaccination because of a religious, or personal objection.

Can someone get measles more than once?

No. – Measles Information PDF

Measles Outbreak – Evolution in Action

Julien Harneis - Child with Measles
“Child with Measles,” Julien Harneis

CDC Confirms 84 Cases of Measles

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Good job, Anti-Vaxxers. Measles is back in the USA. For years, scientists have warned that the anti-vaccination movement was going to cause epidemics of disease. The way that vaccines work effectively is for everyone to get them. “When more than 90% of the population is vaccinated, we have “herd immunity” – this means the disease can’t spread because there aren’t enough susceptible people in the community.” Anti-Vaxxers are weakening this herd immunity. Babies cannot be vaccinated against measles. Anti-Vaxxers behavior is putting the lives of infants at risk.

Freedom should be the ability to do whatever you want as long as you do not hurt anyone else. Unvaccinated children are a risk to babies who cannot be protected from measles. Should the “refusing to vaccinate” be a right of some people, if other weaker individuals in society are being put a risk by this refusal? Do we have a duty to protect the weakest amongst us?

Measles Cases and Outbreaks
Measles Cases and Outbreaks

Measles is highly contagious – 90% of people without immunity sharing living space with an infected person will catch it. Measles is also more dangerous for adults. This should worry people. Measles is a dangerous disease that could lead to deafness, brain damage, or death.

Facts about measles vaccination (PDF)
pdf, 2.41Mb

According to the World Health Organization

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour.
    Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
  • In 2013, about 84% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

Fact sheet N°286

Do Anti-Vaxxers want everyone to stop vaccinating?

In 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year. The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 145,700 people died from measles in 2013 – mostly children under the age of 5. I am not sure what the goal of anti-vaxxers is. Should everyone stop vaccinating? The science shows that autism is not caused by vaccinations. Therefore, what is the purpose of not vaccinating children? In 2015, do we want to see the world return to having 2.6 million preventable deaths each year?

Will people die during this outbreak?

It is unknown how many people will contract measles in the United States during this most recent outbreak. It is unknown how many people will die. In other countries, there were casualties.

Thanks for the Measles, Mom!
Thanks for the Measles, Mom!

Beginning in April 2009, there was a large outbreak of measles in Bulgaria, with over 24,000 cases including 24 deaths. That means that those infected in the Bulgarian outbreak had a 1:1000 chance of dying.

In early 2010, there was a serious outbreak of measles in the Philippines with 742 cases including 4 deaths. Those infected during the Philippine outbreak had a 1:185.5 chance of dying. In late 2013, it was reported in the Philippines that 6,497 measles cases occurred which resulted in 23 deaths. Those infected has a 1:282 chance of dying.

In late 2013, it was reported in the Philippines that 6,497 measles cases occurred which resulted in 23 deaths. Those infected has a 1:282 chance of dying.

In 2014 many unvaccinated US citizens visiting the Philippines, and other countries, contracted measles, resulting in 288 cases being recorded in the United States in the first five months of 2014, a twenty-year high.

There are more measles outbreak statistics available at Wikipedia.

Photo Attribution: “Child with Measles,” Julien Harneis CC by 2.0, CDC/NIP/Barbara Rice – (ID#: 132)

Reality Check

Reality Check: Science Deniers Threaten Our Future

by Donald R. Prothero with Michael Shermer and Pat Linse
The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientifi88c community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.

Map of USA - Measles
Map of USA – Measles (Feb 2, 2015)