All the windows in the bedroom were blacked out, Tom Perkins remembered, and there was a quarantine sign posted on the front door of his house in Smithfield, Utah.
Perkins was between 6 to 8 years old, from what he can remember, so it was between 1953 and 1955. He had contracted “red measles,” and couldn’t wear cotton or wool. Instead Perkins wore slick, silk-like clothing so his rashes wouldn’t be so irritating. Perkins was quarantined to his parent’s darkened bedroom, because his eyes were hypersensitive to light. The 72-year-old Vancouver resident described his fever as “tremendous.”
“I don’t know back then if they called it an epidemic, but there were quite a bit of kids who were missing school because of the measles,” Perkins said. His brother contracted measles right afterward.
In the decade before a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine became available in 1963 almost all U.S. children suffered through the measles before they turned 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three million to 4 million were infected each year, 48,000 were hospitalized, 1,000 contracted encephalitis, and 400 to 500 died.
The virus wreaked so much havoc that in 1978 the CDC set a goal to eliminate measles by 1982. That goal was finally achieved in 2000 when there had been “absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months,” according to the CDC.