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The Death of Young King Edward VI

July 6, 2001

Measles virus suppresses host immunity to TB, as may some types of live measles-virus vaccines. Measles apparently activated an old case of TB and led to the death in 1553 of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII. The authors concluded that Edward's measles episode in April 1552, which was quickly followed by a smallpox infection, set the stage for the aggressive emergence of his TB. Although Edward recovered from the measles and smallpox, by the following January he had developed a cough and was weak. His doctors cited the condition "consumption," a common term for TB at the time.

According to the authors, two primary sources make it clear that Edward died of TB. The first is contained in A Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles, the most impressive history of England published by that time. In 1565, author John Stow wrote: "Kyng Edward beyng about the age of xvi yeres, as is sayd before was long sick of a consumption of the lightes [lungs], and the vi day of July ended his life." Second, from the papers of the illustrious Cecil family of Britain, a likely rough draft of a communication of the Privy Council to English ambassadors on the continent said: "The disease whereof his majesty died was the disease of the lungs, which had in them two great ulcers, and were putrified, by means whereof he fell into consumption, and so hath he wasted, being utterly incurable." The reference also indicates that a surgeon did an autopsy-like procedure.

The measles virus was the first pathogen recognized to cause immunosuppression. Suppression of delayed-type hypersensitivity has also been observed in children who have had live measles-virus vaccines. The mechanisms that underlie measles virus-associated immunosuppression are not wholly understood, but according to the authors, "interleukins are involved. Measles virus inhibits the production of interleukin-12 in vitro -- an effect similar to that seen with human immunodeficiency virus infection."

TB remains a major global health problem, and in some developing nations, measles remains an important cause of childhood morbidity and mortality. "We have failed to conquer either tuberculosis or measles in the 450 years since Edward's death. The 'princes' of the developed world are better protected now than in the time of Henry VIII; it is the 'pauper' children of developing nations who may still suffer the fate of the young King Edward VI," the authors concluded.

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Adapted from:
New England Journal of Medicine
07.05.01; Vol 345; No 1: P 60-62; Grace Holmes, M.D.; Frederick Holmes, M.D.; Julia McMorrough, M.S.



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 


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