What is Measles and should we be scared of an outbreak?
Updated: Feb 10, 2019
With all the media coverage regarding measles, it is no wonder parents on either "side" of the vaccine debate are feeling confused, scared and angry- for a myriad of reasons. I thought it might be helpful to understand what measles is, a little about the history of measles, what you can do to support your immune system naturally, and why it hangs around in spite of very high vaccine rates.
What is measles?
Measles is a virus (not a bacteria and thus cannot be treated with antibiotics) that is spread by coughing and sneezing- much like many other viruses. It is a highly contagious viral illness. Many people hear the word contagious and assume that also means dangerous, and that is not necessarily the case. The cough, sneezing and fever will eventually turn into a harmless rash on the body, and the host (person with the virus) will be sick for about one week.
The media is reporting measles as a very deadly disease- and YES- it can be. But let's talk about the factors that cause this disease to be deadly.
Before I break down the numbers, let me tell you a little bit about my background. I spent 11 years working in pediatric acute care at a local Children's Hospital. I have worked in both the PICU and NICU, as well as pediatric advice nursing. Just about ANY virus or bacteria can turn into a deadly disease. This includes a simple case of diarrhea or a minor cough. When the host has an immune system that is not adequately supported (meaning low in vitamins and minerals), or their immune system is otherwise compromised, a mild case of anything can become dangerous.
Why am I pointing this out? Because I have not ONCE in 11 years seen a child develop complications from measles. I have, however, seen children develop complications like pneumonia, ear infections, asthma, and sepsis from nearly every other virus or bacteria. This is important to understand that measles is not necessarily MORE dangerous than any of the other viruses out there.
What are the complications of the measles virus?
According to the media,"many children suffer from life long complications from measles, some even developing encephalitis." Let's break down the numbers and what this actually means. According to the CDC during the outbreak in 1989, 4 out of 100,000 were estimated to be at risk of developing subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (inflammation of the brain that causes severe nervous system issues). This hasn't changed since the late 1980's outbreak. That means that your child has a risk of 0.00004% of having that particular complication from measles. It is reported that 1 in 10,000 have died from measles, that is 0.0001% of the population, and approximately 95% of those deaths occur in 3rd world countries where sanitation is poor, and malnourishment lends to more severe complications. 95%! As a comparison, it is estimated that the death rate from RSV (another common respiratory virus) is between 10 and 25 deaths per 10,000 in the United States.
Why does the virus remain prevalent in spite of high vaccination rates?
This remains one of the biggest questions to date. In nearly every state where there has been an outbreak, the vaccination rates have exceeded the CDC's recommendation of vaccine coverage. Look at the recent Illinois outbreak- they had close to a 100% vaccination rate and was one of the largest outbreaks in the United States to date. So how is it that measles is still coming around every few years or so? In the state of Washington where the most recent outbreak is, the vaccination rate is approximately 94% for the MMR vaccine. (Please note that the most recent data is 2 years old- however these rates haven't really changed in the last 20 ish years according to the data).
Viruses, by their nature, are made to survive. In spite of high vaccination rates, they will mutate, and have resurgences every 3-5 years or so. We see this with the Flu, Rotavirus, RSV and many other viruses. It was common knowledge on the unit that I worked on that if it has been a few years since a "bad flu season", then we knew one was just around the corner. History confirms this.
According to the NCBI, "The apparent paradox is that as measles immunization rates rise to high levels in a population, measles becomes a disease of immunized persons." They do not know why this is, other than that "viruses will be viruses"- they will find a way to survive and replicate because thats what they do. Again, look at the outbreak in Illinois, California, and New York.
What can you do if your child is too young to vaccinate, or you have chosen for various reasons not to vaccinate?
It is my professional and personal opinion that it is not my job to judge or decide for anyone what their choice regarding vaccines should be. It is my job to educate, listen and aim to understand my patients and their families so that they can make a truly informed decision. If they choose not to vaccinate due to family history, previous injury, or it is determined that their risk for injury outweighs the benefits, then it is our job as medical professionals to provide the support they need to be as healthy as possible.
In the above cases, I want to talk about ways that you can support yourself and your family. No one is without choices to improve the state of their immune system so that it can adequately fight off disease.
The number 1 treatment worldwide for measles is high doses of vitamin A. Vitamin A prevents many of the complications from the measles virus. Now, if you do not have measles and are simply wanting to keep you and your childs immune system strong during an outbreak, then a whole food diet is usually adequate to keep your vitamin A levels up.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, If your child is less than 12 months, The recommended regimen is 100 000 IU by mouth at the time of diagnosis for infants younger than 12 months of age, and 200 000 IU for older children.This dose may be repeated once in 24 hours, and then again 4 weeks later if any symptoms persist.
Vitamin C is known to prevent cell damage from viruses and diseases. The beauty of vitamin C is that you really can't take too much- your body will simply eliminate any excess.
Vitamin D is known to support the immune system, and has been shown in numerous studies to shorten the length of viral illness (including influenza and tuberculosis) by several days. The dosage of vitamin D depends on the age of your child, but the standard dosing is about 100 IU/kg/day.
Elderberry Syrup has been shown in numerous studies to not only shorten the length of viruses, but it also stimulates the immune system to begin sending cytokines and other immune system supports to various parts of the body during illness.
These kinds of supports have been proven to prevent secondary infections like pneumonia and ear infections from viruses, as well as the more severe complications.
If your child is young, and you are worried about exposure: follow the CDC's guidelines and avoid places of exposure while supporting their immune system in the above ways.
If you or your child has any of the symptoms of measles, even if you haven't been exposed, PLEASE be wise and do not expose your children to those who have compromised immune systems or infants.
*This is not intended to substitute the medical advice of your provider. This is meant to be informational only. Please make sure to bring your questions and concerns to your provider. If you would like to receive a more comprehensive medical advice for your situation, please feel free to set up a free consult via my "book now" page.
To your wellness,