Thursday, February 5, 2015

Measles and the Mount: Some history

The Red Cross thanks the Mount for contributing to the nation's supply
of gamma globulin, a key weapon against various epidemics in the 1950s.
The View, Feb. 16, 1954.)
BEING OF A CERTAIN AGE, we remember the measles epidemics of our childhood in the years before the vaccination was developed. Make no mistake – it was an awful illness, resulting (at least) in missing days or weeks of school, lying in a darkened room (to avoid eye damage), fevers, aches, misery.

Not much rash yet, but those watery
eyes are characteristic of rubeola.
With the current – and completely avoidable – epidemic raging around Southern California, we thought we'd look through the archives for outbreaks past. Not surprisingly, the Mount was not spared, even up at remote, inaccessible Chalon in the 1950s. Most students had little brothers and sisters, so measles in those days was considered almost unavoidable.

Thanks to the long, honorable tradition of excellence in the health sciences, Mount students turned out in droves to donate to Red Cross blood drives. So when an epidemic of rubeola (sometimes known as the "hard measles") hit the United States in 1954, Mounties stepped up to help. A cartoon from The View on February 16, 1954, from the Red Cross commends the contributions of blood that went into the making of "G.G.," gamma globulin, the standard response at the time. As we recall, the G.G. shots could be quite painful, but they were thought to prevent or slow the rate of infection and acted as a shield against secondary illnesses like meningitis.

Mount victims of the
1957 epidemic.
Still, childhood diseases like measles were a fact of life in the 1950s and 1960s. A humorous notice of an outbreak appears in The View of March 20, 1957, wondering who was responsible for spreading the disease on campus. Three students are mentioned as having been infected. Presumably they packed hastily and were sent right home to wait out the two- or three-week cycle, and undoubtedly more than one classmate lined up for their G.G. shots.

In the following decade, a list in The View of memories by the Class of '67 (May 11, 1967) includes a mention of one poor student (Linda Robson) who came down with the measles the night before the annual Fleur de Lis Ball. We hope she didn't spread it around.

Measles also warrants a couple of mentions in the Mount's literary journals Inter-Nos and Westwords, where characters in short stories encounter an outbreak (Go to our repository at and type in "measles" to see a range of mentions over the years.)

The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 and in the following years it disappears from the Mount. The current outbreak, however, has revealed the huge numbers of people who were not vaccinated as children and now at risk for exposure. Mount students are required to be vaccinated, but we can't be too careful with this nasty disease.

Our fine team of professionals at MSMU Health Services is sending out regular updates and keeping ahead of any possible problems. Tell your friends and family to get their shots and stay well!