A page from a book in Japanese with an illustration of a child's face showing the red spots of measles concentrated around the mouth and chin.

Necessary Instructions About Measles, 1824

By Margaret Kaiser ~

The National Library of Medicine recently acquired a rare work on measles in Japan.  Mashin Hitsuyo  (Necessary Instructions About Measles) was published in Edo, Japan, in response to the measles epidemic of 1824.  Its author, Roan Katsushika, was a medical doctor.

Measles is a highly contagious disease and transmission from person-to-person is airborne. Typically, measles produces a rash of tiny, red spots that develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreads to the rest of the body. For centuries, measles was one of the common childhood communicable diseases throughout the world.  In Japan, as in many other countries, epidemics of measles would occur periodically bringing higher rates of serious illness, complications, and death. It was especially dangerous for children under the age of five.

An open book in Japanese with an illustration spanning two pages of a family gathered around while an older man examines a child in a bed under blankets.
A sick child with parents and an attending doctor in Mashin Hitsuyo  (Necessary Instructions About Measles), 1824
National Library of Medicine #101770159

In this book, Katsushika describes the symptoms of measles and the progression of the disease and includes suggestions for herbal medicines, recommendations for diet, and other remedies such as the use of moxibustion.  Moxibustion is a therapy in traditional Chinese medicine. Moxa are generally made from leaves of the mugwort plant which are dried and ground into small sticks or cones. The moxa are lighted and used to warm points on the body. Similar to incense, the heat and smoke of the burning moxa are said to have therapeutic effects. Katsushika also provides a history of measles outbreaks in Japanese history, as well as references to the history of the disease in China and India and methods of treatment in those countries.

The measles vaccine, introduced in the 1960s, can prevent measles. Because it has been so effective and because of the similarity between the viruses, researchers studied the measles vaccine in their efforts to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Today, the measles vaccine has been brought to every country of the world and countries continue to work toward the eradication of measles. Although Japan had eliminated measles in 2015, it returned, and the number of measles cases has increased particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For questions about this title and other historical collections, including how to consult them, please contact the History of Medicine Division Reference staff via NLM Customer Support or call (301) 402-8878.

Margaret Kaiser is Acquisitions Librarian for the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Section in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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