The Place of Measles in London’s Public Health

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the infectious disease known as measles became a growing concern to the various boroughs of London. Looking at the London’s Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports published from 1848 through 1972, we examined different aspects of public health and how they were integrated into healthcare to prevent the spread of measles.  

When looking into treatment for measles, not much detail was given on how they went about trying to help one get over the illness. Most of the reports said that people should be taken to hospitals for treatment, and that was the extent of the ‘treatment’. Listed symptoms were established to look for when determining if one should seek medical attention. This played a key role in the prevention and tracking of the disease in school children. Because the civilians were advised to seek hospital care if infected,  here we examine the importance of healthcare systems in measles cases of London.

Before 1963, when the measles vaccine was developed, there were few preventative measures to stop the spread of measles. One of the only ways to prevent further spread was to quarantine specific areas, primarily schools. For a school to take those measures, thirty percent of the school’s population had to be infected. Because measles was so prevalent in children and possibly fatal in youth, the effects of measles on children were examined.

Those who had measles had a suppressed immune system and were more likely to catch other diseases. Many of the reports claimed that the cause of death for most people with the disease was not from the actual disease itself, but rather some other illness that was able to take over their body such as pneumonia. The introduction of vaccinations significantly reduced the number of deaths from measles. Those who are not vaccinated, and are near individuals with measles, can develop serious conditions and illnesses. With the introduction of the vaccine into public health, here we examine its early impacts and how it shaped the role measles had in London. 

With measles being a highly contagious disease and often resulting in death  for the areas of London in the 20th century, we found it important to investigate the mortality and incidence rates of measles in London. The key aspect of this investigation is to look at the areas in which measles is spreading and how the public health programs have impacted the community. Incidence rates were especially impactful in the 1960s when looking at the role that the vaccine played in prevention and treatment. 

One way in which many people avoided mortality was by building an immunity to measles. In the 20th century, immunity was most commonly acquired naturally, where one would be exposed to the disease and after initial exposure would no longer be affected. Children were highly susceptible to measles, which made the affects of children developing immunity the focus of many of the health reports. Here we explore how developing immunity to the measles impacted outbreaks in London in the 20th century. 

Image of Child with Measles Rash
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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