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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Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth "talk time" is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it's that "back-and-forth conversation" that improves language skills—much more so than "passive" listening or one-way interaction with a screen.

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.

Say "I love you" whenever you feel it, even if it's 743 times a day. You simply can not spoil a child with too many mushy words of affection and too many smooches. Not possible.

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)

Encourage daddy time. The greatest untapped resource available for improving the lives of our children is time with Dad - early and often. Kids with engaged fathers do better in school, problem-solve more successfully, and generally cope better with whatever life throws at them.

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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Don’t be too critical towards your child’s exploration of the Internet. Children may come across adult material by accident on the web. Also, a child may intentionally search for such websites; remember that it is natural for children to be curious about off-limits material. Try to use this as an opening to discuss the content with them, and perhaps make rules for this kind of activity. Be realistic in your assessment of how your child uses the internet.