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Roald Dahl Wrote Of Daughter's Measles Death

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By Sky News US Team

Roald Dahl lost a child to measles in 1962 - and more than 20 years later he wrote a poignant letter calling for vaccination.


The Charlie And The Chocolate Factory author's letter has gained new attention as the US grapples with a measles outbreak across several states.

In his letter Dahl spoke of his daughter Olivia, who died of the disease when she was seven.

The author recalls one particular morning over the course of the illness that up until then had not left him "particularly alarmed".

"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.

The writer with his wife, American actress Patricia Neal, in 1962

"'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 author said measles had turned into measles encephalitis and "there was nothing the doctors could do to save her". 

"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," Dahl wrote.

"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."

The current outbreak has been linked to visits to Disneyland in California

At another point he adds: "It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised."

In the current US outbreak, Arizona health officials are monitoring 1,000 people, including 200 children, who could have been exposed to measles.

The highly infectious disease's outbreak is believed to have originated in December at Disneyland in California.

President Barack Obama also called for parents to get children vaccinated during an interview to NBC before the Super Bowl.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in an infected person's nose and throat mucus and spreads through coughing and sneezing.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes and a red rash that usually first appears on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

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