Roald Dahl's heartbreaking letter on daughter's measles death resonates amid Washington outbreak

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Roald Dahl's heartbreaking letter on daughter's measles death resonates amid Washington outbreak

The author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" said parents who refuse the measles vaccine are putting their children's lives at risk.

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Ask your children three "you" questions every day. The art of conversation is an important social skill, but parents often neglect to teach it. Get a kid going with questions like, "Did you have fun at school?"; "What did you do at the party you went to?"; or "Where do you want to go tomorrow afternoon?"

Ashley May, USA TODAY Published 12:12 p.m. ET Feb. 8, 2019 | Updated 12:49 p.m. ET Feb. 8, 2019
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During a measles outbreak that's been declared a public health emergency in Washington, people are remembering the words of Roald Dahl, the author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and other children's classics, whose daughter died from the disease decades ago.

She died before a vaccine was available. Dahl, who died in 1990, was a fierce advocate for parents vaccinating their children.

Dahl wrote an open letter years ago titled "Measles: A Dangerous Illness," that told of his 7-year-old daughter Olivia's tragic death and also urged parents to have their children vaccinated.

"There was nothing the doctors could do to save her," he wrote.

In 1962, before a measles vaccine was available, Olivia became infected and wasn't feeling well for a few days. Dahl wrote that she appeared to be on the "road to recovery," but then he noticed one day "that her fingers and her mind were not working together" as they were crafting animals out of pipe cleaners on her bed. She had developed measles encephalitis, brain swelling.

Talk about the risks associated with meeting online “friends” in person. Adults should understand that the internet can be a positive meeting place for children, where they can get to know other young people and make new friends. However, for safety and to avoid unpleasant experiences, it is important that children do not meet strangers they have met online without being accompanied by an adult you trust. In any case, the child should always have their parents’approval first. In addition, it is also a good idea to have a fail-safe plan in place such as calling them shortly after the meeting begins so that they can bail out if they feel uncomfortable.

He wrote:

"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.

Dahl wrote that parents should "insist" that their child receives the immunization against measles, underscoring that the illness is dangerous and potentially fatal. In the late 1980s, Dahl's letter appeared in health literature shortly after a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine became available in the U.K. and has since been used in a variety of health campaigns over the years.

"In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk," he wrote.

Dahl's wife Patricia Neal told People in 1997 that Olivia's death haunted Dahl: "It was locked inside him."

Dahl dedicated his books "James and the Giant Peach" and "BFG" to Olivia.

As a measles outbreak has infected more than 50 people, mostly unvaccinated children, in the anti-vaccine hot spot of Clark County, Washington, people are once again sharing Dahl's message.

More: What to know about the measles outbreak, affecting over 50 in Washington anti-vaccination hot spot

Roald Dahl's article on the death of his daughter who died from measles encephalitis is heartwrenching. Her death occurred prior to an available measles vaccine.

Today the risk of measles outbreaks is high as parents choose against their kids receiving immunizations. Excerpt:

— Researchagain (@Researchagain)

Dr. Alan Melnick just spoke with @NPR about why measles is so dangerous - and recently we heard how author Roald Dahl lost his daughter to the virus in the days before there was a vaccine

— KUNM News (@KUNMnews)

Abide by the three rules of homework. Number one: "Eat the frog," says Ted Theodorou, a middle-school social studies teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. That's shorthand for "Do the hardest thing first." Rule number two: Put away the phone. Homework time can't be totally tech-free (computers, alas, are often a necessary evil), but it can at least be free of text messages. Rule number three: As soon as assignments are finished, load up the backpack for tomorrow and place it by the door. This is a clear three-step process that kids can internalize, so there's less nagging from you. (Yes!)

Even @roald_dahl knows the importance of vaccines. If you won’t listen to me, please listen to the man who wrote “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” and “James & the Giant Peach” whose daughter died of measles. #VaccinesSaveLives #VaccinesWork

— Anika Kumar, MD (@freckledpedidoc)

“So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunized”-from the author Roald Dahl (Charlie and and the Chocolate Factory, etc) in an essay he wrote about the death in 1962 of his daughter from #measles #VaccinesWork

— Danette Glassy (@GlassyMD)

Read Dahl's full letter here .

Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets


A measles outbreak is spreading across a Washington county known for choosing not to vaccinate its children, and health officials have declared a public health emergency. USA TODAY

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Acknowledge your kid's strong emotions. When your child's meltdown is over, ask him, "How did that feel?" and "What do you think would make it better?" Then listen to him. He'll recover from a tantrum more easily if you let him talk it out.