In 2016, Josh Nerius developed a fever, sore throat, and a rash. Doctors ruled out strep throat but it wasn't until someone asked his vaccination status that he learned his parents had never vaccinated him against measles. In a Washington Post perspective, Nerius recounts his experience with the illness, including its long-term effects on his health.
What it's like to have the measles
Nerius described measles as "the worst flu I'd ever had, combined with the worst hangover I'd ever had." He added, "It flattened me. Mentally, I was disoriented."
Initially, Nerius said his doctor diagnosed him with strep throat and gave him antibiotics. But his fever and sore throat worsened and he developed a rash on one arm. "Then, one morning, I collapsed onto the floor of my apartment," he said.
He sought care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a teaching hospital in Chicago, and doctors there determined that he did not have strep.
"Then someone thought to ask: Were you vaccinated against measles?" Nerius recalled. "In my haze, I realized that I wasn't sure."
Nerius texted his mother, asking if he'd been vaccinated. "She responded with a thumb's-down emoji," and responded "'Why?'" Nerius notes. He told her he was in the hospital.
Doctors confirmed he did in fact have measles.
Nerius' bedside became a popular place for medical students because the United States eliminated the disease in 2000, and "[n]one of them had ever seen this disease in person before." He recalled, "[M]edical students would come to my bedside and ask if they could take photos of my rash."
Once his condition improved, Nerius was discharged but ordered to stay home. It took him months "to feel even close to normal," he said.
Life after measles
While Nerius recovered, he talked with his parents about his medical history. "It turned out that I had never been vaccinated against any infection—not measles, not polio, not tetanus," he said. "I felt a little dumb for not realizing sooner."
Nerius was homeschooled most of his life so the subject of immunization records "never came up."
While Nerius said he didn't know the exact reasoning for his parents' "immunization denial," he noted that they were always "suspicious of 'unnatural' medical intervention." He recalled that his parents often turned to home remedies when Nerius or one of his seven siblings fell ill.
To prevent getting sick again, Nerius and his doctor drafted a schedule to get Nerius up to date on his immunizations.
His parents 'stand behind their decision' not to vaccinate
Today, Nerius' parents "stand behind their decision" not to vaccinate him and his siblings, Nerius said.
"Vaccine skeptics brush off measles as a once common 'childhood illness,' making it sound like a manageable nuisance—a rite of passage, even," Nerius said. "But they forget that it can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and meningitis, and that it can be fatal."
For instance, while Nerius "contracted the disease as an adult in good health," he still feels its effects. Nerius has "immune amnesia," which makes him more vulnerable to other illnesses. "When someone close to me gets the sniffles, I end up coughing for weeks," Nerius notes. Another concern for is "panencephalitis, in which virus lingering in the brain triggers a deadly immune response."
Now, Nerius is in ongoing conversations with his siblings about the risk of contracting measles and other illnesses. For people who are unvaccinated, "the risk of infection doesn't feel urgent," Nerius said. "Everyone is healthy, so everything is fine—until it's not" (Nerius/Nguyen, Washington Post, 4/25).
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