By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

What is Measles?

Measles is a viral infection that is probably best known for its distinctive skin rash. Also called rubeola, 5-day measles, or hard measles, this highly contagious illness is primarily a respiratory infection that is common worldwide. Once a typical childhood disease here in the United States, it is rarely diagnosed here any more. In fact, only fifty cases of the measles were identified in the U.S. in 2002. However, 30 to 40 million cases are reported every year worldwide, and measles is responsible for more the 750,000 deaths annually. The infection is particularly toxic to small children, and has the capability of being fatal. Most babies, up to eight months of age, are naturally immune to the measles virus due to antibodies inherited from their mothers.

A very large number of Americans have been, and continue to be, vaccinated against measles with a concoction called the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella). While this has been largely responsible for eliminating this illness in the U.S., MMR is a very controversial vaccine that we will discuss later in this article.

What Causes Measles?

Measles is caused by a virus called paramyxovirus. It is spread almost exclusively via airborne droplets sneezed or coughed by an infected person. It is so contagious, that up to 90% of individuals exposed to an infected person will come down with measles themselves. Expelled droplets containing the virus can remain contagious on surfaces for up to several hours.

Once a person becomes infected with the measles virus, symptoms of the illness are not normally evident for about 10-12 days. Patients are most contagious from 3-5 days before symptoms appear, until about four days after the hallmark measles rash arrives on the scene.

What Are the Symptoms of Measles?

Typical measles symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Extremely runny nose
  • Inflamed, runny eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Koplik’s spots (see below)
  • The “measles rash” (see below)

The course of the infection is fairly predictable. It usually goes as follows:

  • Initially, most patients experience a mild to moderate fever along with a cough, runny nose, sore throat, and conjunctivitis.
  • Several days later, a rash begins in the mouth, typically on the mucus membrane inside of the cheeks. It is very distinctive in appearance, usually composed of tiny white dots that resemble grains of sand or salt that are found on top of a reddish bumps. These are the famous “Koplik’s spots” that are a characteristic sign of measles. The sore throat worsens, becoming extremely red and swollen.
  • A couple of days later, the patient’s fever may shoot up to 104 or 105 F, and the “measles rash” begins. It starts as red, blotchy patches, and first appears on the head or face (often behind the ears), and progressively works its way down the neck, to the torso, abdomen, and then along the extremities. As the rash develops, it changes from flat  to somewhat bumpy.
  • Other symptoms may appear at this point as well, including nausea, vomiting, swollen glands, and diarrhea. Needless to say, the patients (often children) are feeling extremely ill and overcome by this onslaught.
  • The rash usually begins to fade after about 5 days, and turns brown before disappearing and leaving behind dry, flaky skin.
  • The whole cycle of active symptoms takes about 10-14 days. Most individuals, especially in Western countries, will recover fully despite becoming very ill.

There are many complications that can accompany a measles infection. Some of the more significant and common ones include:

  • Secondary bacterial infections are very common, especially in children. These include ear infections, sinusitis, and pneumonia. About 10% of all kids with measles will get an ear infection.
  • Additional viral infections are also a possibility, such as laryngitis, croup, bronchitis, or viral pneumonia.
  • Encephalitis (swelling and inflammation of the brain) is one of the more serious complications that occur in about 1 out of every 1000 measles patients, and is fatal 10-15% of the time. This form of encephalitis is a viral infection that can exhibit symptoms of fever, severe headache, vomiting, convulsions, and rarely coma. It can appear shortly after the measles symptoms have dissipated, or up to several weeks later. A rare form of encephalitis related to measles that can appear years later, often during adolescence, is called “Dawson’s encephalitis.”
  • Pregnancy problems:  Women who are with child should be very careful to avoid any known exposure to the measles virus. Infections in them can cause miscarriage, low birth-weight babies, or premature labor.
  • Thrombocytopenia:This is a condition that results in blood clotting problems due to a decrease in certain white blood cells called platelets.
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis is a very sad and deadly complication related to measles. It may not show itself for up to 10 years after the initial measles infection. It is characterized by swelling in the brain that totally destroys it slowly and progressively over a period of years. The process is very unpleasant, as the patient’s mind and body completely deteriorate. Typical symptoms include personality changes, loss of muscle control, blindness, and great fluctuations in body temperature.  Eventually the patient, often still a child or young teen, becomes totally helpless and must be bedridden and taken care of by others until death, which is inevitable. Thankfully this is a very rare condition that most often affects folks who had measles before the age of two.
  • Other rare complications include inflammation of the lymph nodes in the abdomen, heart or kidney inflammations, and inflammatory complications in the liver, intestines, or appendix.

What Can Be Done to Treat Measles?

There is no treatment that can stop the progression of the measles infection once it has begun. Only the symptoms can be treated to make the patient feel more comfortable until the infection has run its course.

Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed to deal with any secondary bacterial infections. In cases where patients are severely ill or have a compromised immune system and may easily get dangerously ill, antibiotics may be the right call. However, they are so over used that many strains of microorganisms are becoming immune to their effects, it they are not so already.

The philosophy of mainstream medicine has become one of throwing drugs at any illness that comes along, even if the use of medications may have significant consequences both in the short-term and the long-term. I prefer to live my life, and teach others how to live their lives, so that the focus is on wellness and not sickness. Before the advent of many modern pharmaceuticals, people who got sick dealt with it the “old fashioned way” by letting the illness run its course, and allowing the body to heal itself with the tools our creator provided. Fever, for example, is usually a blessing. It is a normal response of the immune system to deal with the antigens that are causing the sickness. Sometimes medicating can block the body’s natural healing mechanisms and actually worsen or lengthen an illness. So, except in extenuating circumstances, I believe the best course is the most natural and non-invasive when it comes to managing disease.

What About the MMR Vaccine?

This vaccine has been available in the United States since the 1980’s, and is now widely accepted by most people, simply due to ignorance, as the only option for vaccination against measles. This is simply not true. There are several key questions that must be considered when surveying this issue.

First let’s address the issue of safety and the MMR. Is it a wise choice to allow my children to receive this vaccine?  There is a huge amount of evidence that clearly shows that some children are at great risk when exposed to this vaccine, and in fact many have died or become deathly ill.  Many parents have seen their kids, from infants to toddlers go through some terrible side effects from MMR. Some of the most common are high fevers (up to 106 F), which have caused brain damage, convulsions, sudden death, and seizures. As far as I am concerned, we can stop the debate right here. It’s not even necessary to get into the dangers of the mercury content in many vaccines that can have serious health consequences, or the concerns over the increase of autism associated with vaccinations. The incidence of measles is so low in this country, that I think a person would have to be out of their mind to subject their child to such a risky and dangerous vaccine. The cure is clearly worse than the cause in this case.

What most people don’t know, and your doctor usually won’t tell you, is that if you did feel the need to get vaccinated against the measles, there are separate vaccines available. I am not recommending them, but I am simply curious as to why this information is not disseminated.

A study by Swiss physicians determined that there is no medical rationale behind combining three vaccines into one. In fact, the reverse is true. If the only goal were to vaccinate as many individuals as possible, separate vaccines would be much more medically effective. It makes one wonder why the MMR was incorporated in the first place. Some people are of the opinion that in the government’s eyes, it is easier to enforce mandated vaccines when there are less of them to keep track of, and I suspect this line of thinking is on the right track. Every day we are losing more individual freedoms in this country, and many of them seem to be in the arena of health care decisions.

There is even some question as to the effectiveness of the MMR. A British study in 2000 found that almost 50% of children who had received MMR showed “zero or very low immunity” against measles or mumps. There are a lot of parents out there who think their children are protected, when they very well may not be.

In my mind, there are clearly too many known issues and unanswered question regarding the use of MMR. I would not personally recommend that anyone, especially in the United States, subject themselves or their loved ones to this very questionable vaccine.

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