Another measles outbreak made the news this week as nearly fifty cases (so far) were counted after an outbreak began at Disneyland in California. Even though “patient zero” – the individual who was the source of the outbreak – has yet to be identified, the usual scare-mongering was in force with grim reminders of deaths from measles: 123 to be exact, in the US, over a three year period from 1989-1991. What we never learn is whether these deaths happened in vaccinated or unvaccinated children, or what background health problems or nutrition deficits they may have had to make them vulnerable. We don’t know if patient zero was vaccinated, but odds are strong that s/he was – see below. We are simply (mis)led to believe that because somebody wasn’t vaccinated, somebody died, or will die. The “anti-vaccine movement” is blamed, again.
But here are the facts, straight from the CDC’s mouth:
• Nearly 95% of US children are vaccinated against measles (2014 measles vaccine coverage data)
• Deaths from measles in the US dramatically dropped to fewer than 2 per 100,000 by 1945 (see page 85 here), nearly twenty years before a vaccine existed. Here is a graph showing this timeline. On the far right, the last arrow shows introduction of measles vaccine, many years after deaths and illness from measles had flattened, thanks to improved nutrition and sanitation. The second graph illustrates same, but for measles only. For both, here is the CDC source:
• Measles vaccine has been failing since the early 1980’s, with dramatic outbreaks spreading through fully vaccinated populations. Despite this investigation being published by the CDC itself, media outlets today keep telling us that this only happens because of people who don’t vaccinate. Earlier this year, even Science Magazine made this very gaff, with a headline so dramatically wrong it’s almost comical: “Measles Outbreak Traced To Vaccinated Person For First Time “.
Even though these periodic outbreaks continue despite nearly every child in the US getting MMR shots, the CDC, your pediatrician, school principal, neighbor, auntie, and everyone else will tell you it’s your fault there’s an outbreak, if your child didn’t get an MMR shot. Even if your child is well while all the vaccinated kids are getting sick with measles, they will still believe this to be true and will still blame you for it.
That’s when you might whip out this pearl: “This outbreak demonstrates that transmission of measles can occur within a school population with a documented immunization level of 100%” (see 1980’s link above). There you have it: Every kid in the school where this outbreak occurred had been fully immunized. Every. Single. One. And this is not an unusual scenario.
If that doesn’t seem crazy enough, here’s how the CDC explained this disconcerting fail of MMR vaccine, in the carefully investigated and documented 1983 outbreak: “…this outbreak may have resulted from chance clustering of otherwise randomly distributed vaccine failures in the community.” Of course, this missive wraps the topic by saying it’s important to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, acquiring measles infection from vaccination itself has been documented.
Obviously, MMR vaccination is not eradicating measles. It may even be spreading measles. And risks from this vaccine are real. Personally, I have worked with many families who are certain that the descent into autism that their children experienced was due to an MMR shot. Reviewing their medical charts carefully, I can’t disagree. What’s a parent to do?
This is a huge topic, and I can’t begin to tackle it in a single blog. For more on why measles vaccines may be failing us more than we know, start here.
Still, I would say this: Fear not. My siblings and I grew up in the era when your pediatrician was worried if you didn’t get measles, not the other way around. Measles, chickenpox, and mumps infections were regarded as beneficial childhood milestones that developed a vigorous, healthy immune system. Measles infection was so benign for healthy children that our lexicon created the word “measly” from it – meaning, insignificant, or “contemptibly small“. How times have changed! Pediatricians today who are under forty years old may never have seen a healthy child with measles in the flesh, and may be ill-prepared to nurture and nourish that child through it.
Food and nutrition support children in having an uncomplicated course of infection. While a well nourished child who gets measles is going to be sick for a week or two, complications from measles are what can be life threatening, more so than measles itself. These can include pneumonia or encephalitis. But these are extremely rare in children who are healthy and in strong nutrition status, before exposure. This doesn’t mean that sprinkling a poorly nourished child with supplements during fever and illness will do the trick (though certain ones may help). Here’s what that means:
– Measles infection and measles vaccination as MMR both present vigorous demands for the immune system. Your child’s nutrition status before, during, and after exposure can determine the severity of illness/reaction and whether or not there are complications. While sick with measles, your child probably won’t feel like eating, will have a fever, and may have diarrhea. Measles exposure (natural or injected) triggers changes in gut tissue and immune function, causing children to lose protein in stool during this illness, when the immune system most needs it. Replenish your child daily with good food during this infection. If they feel too nauseous to eat, feed organic beef broth or bone broths that are not low sodium – your child needs electrolytes here. Stir a half teaspoon of ghee or grass fed butter (a vitamin A source) into the broth. Give electrolyte drinks and any protein rich foods they will accept. Lactose intolerance is a documented effect for some children exposed to measles, so if dairy foods that your child usually loves suddenly feel awful during this illness, switch to non-dairy protein sources like egg, meats, chicken, homemade broths, or any tolerated legumes/beans/peas. Elemental amino acid formulas and supplements are available too. Contact me if you need more information on these products.
– Your child’s weight relative to his height should be in a healthy range. Body mass index should be above 10th percentile. Underweight children, especially those with a body mass index or weight-to-height ratio below the fifth percentile, are at higher risk for infection in general and for more complications from infections. Though we often hear about childhood obesity in the US, most children in my practice are struggling with gaining weight and growing – and these are kids who get sick more often, stay sick longer, and have more complications.
– Iron status should be robust. The best way to measure this is to check a child’s ferritin level. It should be at least 30, though reference ranges drop to 10. Signs of weak iron status include pallor, veins visible through skin, shiners at eyes, penchant for chewing ice or other non-food items (sticks, rocks, sand, pens, paperclips, fabric), fatigue, intermittent hyperactivity, depression or mood swings, or poor sleep. Teen girls may have heavier menses when iron deficient. Iron is the single most commonly deficient nutrient world wide, including in US children.
– Vitamins A and C should be strong in your child’s diet every day. Vitamin A in particular is specifically protective against measles virus and will be depleted by the demands made on the immune system if your child is exposed. Cod liver oil, whole milk or butter, brightly colored vegetables and fruits are all good sources, and can add omega 3 fats also, which help modulate immune function.
– Zinc status should be strong. Eat zinc rich foods daily – raw cashews, nut butters, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, pork, lamb, beef, mushrooms, or legumes and beans are good sources. You can also use a supplement to 15-30 mg daily for children in most cases.
– Give your child strong protein status so his immune system has the building blocks needed to make globulins and other immune molecules to mount a defense. Your child should be eating at least 35-60 grams protein daily depending on age, from varied sources (that is, not just milk, cheese, and yogurt – see my blog on dairy addiction if that is your kid).
The role of nutrition in preventing measles and lessening the impact of this infection is legendary in public health circles, and has filled volumes for decades – from vitamin A status as a predictor of measles deaths, to how fish oils modulate certain immune proteins in our bodies. Your child can have marginal status for any of these nutrition factors without your pediatrician’s notice – a scenario I routinely find in my pediatric nutrition practice. Pediatricians have little training in applied nutrition, and even less time to use it in clinic, where they must turn over dozens of patient visits per day. If you’re not sure what your child needs to build strong immunity, contact me for an appointment.
If the measles vaccine does not work, what can account for the almost complete disappearance of the disease here in Denmark. We have not vaccinated, thinking our kids should acquire natural immunity, but how to contract it now. Do you have a theory of how and why measles have decreased in so many countries?
Measles is a normally mild infection for young children who are in good nutrition status. This is why it has decreased. I’ve added visuals above illustrating that vaccines can not be credited with reducing measles (US data). If your children are exposed to wild type measles, are well nourished, growing well, and in strong status for nutrients I mention here (vitamins A, D, C, zinc, and iron) then they are likely to have an inconvenient but benign course of infection with full recovery and lasting immunity, should they encounter wild type measles. I will add that in my pediatric nutrition practice, I routinely find that children are not in good nutrition status – but because pediatrics does not engage nutrition screening or care, no one notices, and the children end up with chronic infections despite full vaccination, not to mention developmental or learning disorders or behavior and conduct disorders. I capture findings often for weak zinc, weak iron or pre-anemia, poor protein intakes, poor growth patterns, low vitamin D status, and a dearth of vitamin A rich foods in their diets that doctors and specialists have never thought to look for at all. These children are sitting ducks not just for poor outcomes with any infection, but especially measles, which will demand the immune system vigorously engage these nutrients to respond. If these nutrients are depleted, the child will be sicker, longer, and will have more complications. These children may also tolerate an MMR shot poorly and lapse into chronic diarrheal illness and developmental delays – I have too many case accounts of this outcome to count.
I have measles and I’m 39 yrs old. My mother said I had measles when I was a child and I even have 2 doses if the vaccine. I am allegric to shrimp and dustmites. They say I must not eat eggs and chicken so as not to aggravate the itch…. I’m worried about being told adult measles is very risky and prone to pneumonia and the disease in the brain. Antihestamine has no effect even if I’m taking. 2x a day. What can you recommend? Thanks a bunch.
This is a very good question. What you need to do is have your doctor check if you are immune to measles. Since you have had the actual infection, your antibody levels may be in tact against measles, and you are thus protected. As mentioned here, vitamin A, protein, zinc and iron are tools the immune system uses to fight and shed this virus when we are infected or vaccinated. So have your doctor complete a blood test for you vitamin A level, serum zinc, serum iron, ferritin, TIBC, transferrin, and saturation. Those measure your status for those nutrients. Ideally have him/her include your quantitative immunoglobulin levels and make sure they are solid in the mid or higher lab ranges. These all describe good protection for you and will make your immune system function at its best. If your results are marginal but still within lab reference ranges, then you are more vulnerable, and you should use nutrition supports to bolster your body’s resources to protect you.