What is Measles?
Measles is a very contagious disease that produces a pink rash all over the body. It is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system, skin, and eyes. The first symptoms appear about 10 days after becoming infected. A fever, cough, and runny nose develop, and the eyes become red, watery and sensitive to light. The fever may reach 105 degrees F (41 degrees C). Small pink spots with gray-white centers develop inside the mouth. A few days later, pink spots break out on the face. The rash then spreads all over the body. Once the rash reaches the feet -- in two or three days -- the fever drops and the runny nose and cough disappear. The rash on other parts of the body begins to fade, and the infected person starts to feel better.
Antibiotics and drugs do not work to shorten the duration or alleviate the symptoms of measles once it is contracted. Treatment mainly consists of allowing the disease to run its course. However, cool sponge baths and soothing lotions to relieve the itchy rash may be helpful. Drinking lots of liquids to prevent dehydration is recommended as well. The disease confers permanent immunity; the infected person will not contract it again.
Is measles dangerous?
Prior to the 1960s, most children in the United States and Canada caught measles. Complications from the disease were unlikely. Previously healthy children usually recovered without incident.(1) However, measles can be dangerous in populations newly exposed to the virus,(2) and in malnourished children living in undeveloped countries.(3,4) Ear infections, pneumonia, brain damage (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis), and death are some of the possibilities.(5) In advanced countries, measles can be severe when it infects people living in impoverished communities with poor nutrition, sanitation, and inadequate health care.(6) Complications are also more likely when the disease strikes infants, adults, and anyone with a compromised immune system.(7)
Scare Tactics: Doctors and other health authorities often try to frighten parents about measles by exaggerating the risks. For example, vaccine pamphlets published by the CDC claim that 1 out of every 1000 children who contract measles will get encephalitis, an infection of the brain.(8) However, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, renowned pediatrician and vaccine researcher, had this to say: "The incidence of 1/1000 may be accurate for children who live in conditions of poverty and malnutrition" but for just about everyone else "the incidence of true encephalitis is probably more like 1/10,000 or 1/100,000."(9) Furthermore, about 75 percent of these cases will not show evidence of brain damage.(10)
Vitamin A and Nutrition: Several studies show that when patients with measles are given vitamin A supplements, their complication rates and chances of dying are significantly reduced. For example, as early as 1932 doctors used cod-liver oil -- high in vitamin A -- to treat measles and lower mortality by 58 percent.(11) Studies conducted in 1958 and 1961 confirmed that the wild measles virus has a severe short-term effect on immunity and the child's nutritional status, especially vitamin A and nitrogen metabolism.(12,13) But antibiotics -- later shown to be ineffective at treating measles -- soon replaced vitamin A therapy, and by the 1960s vaccinations gained preference over treatment protocols. However, during the mid-1980s new studies demonstrated an increased risk of diarrhea, respiratory disease, and death in children with mild vitamin A deficiency.(14,15)
In a 1987 study conducted in Tanzania, Africa, 180 children with measles were randomly divided into two groups and received routine treatment alone or with 200,000 i.u. of orally administered vitamin A. Mortality rates in the vitamin A group were cut in half. In fact, children under two years of age who did not receive vitamin A were nearly eight times more likely to die (Figure 1).(16)
In 1990, the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that vitamin A supplements significantly reduce measles complication and death rates.(17) In 1992, researchers measured vitamin A levels in children with measles and determined that deficiencies were associated with lower levels of measles-specific antibodies, higher and longer lasting fevers, and a greater probability of being hospitalized.(18) The authors of the study recommended Vitamin A therapy for children under two years of age with severe measles.(19) And a 1993 study showed that 72 percent of all measles cases in the U.S. requiring hospitalization are deficient in vitamin A. The greater the deficiency, the worse the complications and higher the probability of dying.(20)
Malnutrition is clearly responsible for higher disease complication and death rates.(21) According to David Morley, infectious disease expert, "Severity of measles is greatest in the developing countries where children have nutritional deficiencies... The child with severe measles and an immune system suppressed by malnutrition secretes the virus three times longer than does a child with normal nutrition."(22) Dr. Viera Scheibner, vaccine researcher, summarizes the data more succinctly: "Children in Third World countries need improved vitamin A and general nutritional status, not vaccines."(23)
Fever Reducers: Poor nutrition and a vitamin A deficiency are not the only factors known to increase measles complication and mortality rates. Standard treatment protocols may be detrimental as well. For example, when doctors administer antipyretics (fever reducers, such as aspirin) to control the rising temperature in measles patients, greater problems are likely. In one study during a measles epidemic in Ghana, Africa, children were divided into two groups. One group received antipyretics -- typical at many hospitals. Mortality was five times greater than in the group that did not receive this treatment (Figure 2).(24) Researchers concluded that "children with the most violent, highly febrile form of the disease actually had the best prognosis."(25)
In another study conducted in Afghanistan, 200 children with measles were divided into two groups. Once again, members of one group received aspirin to lower fever. The study revealed that children receiving the antipyretics had prolonged illness, more diarrhea, ear infections and respiratory ailments, such as pneumonia, bronchitis and laryngitis, and significantly greater mortality rates.(26) According to Dr. Harold Buttram, who studied the data, "it could be inferred that interference with the natural course of the disease significantly dampened the immune responses of the children."(27) The authors of the study noted that the "adverse effect of antipyretics, which makes the course of the disease longer, facilitates superinfections which give rise to high mortality."(28) This study also suggests that "children suffering from measles should be kept warm enough in order to have fever and pass the disease safely."(29)
Dr. Robert Mendelsohn agrees that fevers should not be suppressed: "Doctors do a great disservice to you and your child when they prescribe drugs to reduce his fever... When your child contracts an infection, the fever that accompanies it is a blessing, not a curse... A rising body temperature simply indicates that the process of healing is speeding up. It is something to rejoice over, not to fear."(30) Other researchers have noted that "the development of cancer may quite possibly have been given a boost in certain cases through the repression of febrile conditions."(31) In fact, pyrexia (a condition resulting from fever inducers) has been used in the prevention and treatment of carcinomas.(32) Despite the evidence implicating antipyretics in prolonging disease and raising mortality rates, Dr. Scheibner ruefully observes that "the relentless suppression of fever in children with measles is still widely practiced."(33)
Does a measles vaccine exist?
In 1758, Francis Home conducted the first experiments to prevent measles by inserting measles-infected blood into deliberate cuts made on healthy people.(34) He claimed that his "variolation" technique caused a milder form of the disease. However, the procedure was not without danger; variolation was known to spread syphilis, tuberculosis, and several other diseases.(35)
In 1940, the U.S. military tested an experimental measles vaccine on enlisted personnel. Following severe reactions, the program was ended.(36) In 1954, a team of virologists headed by John F. Enders, an American scientist, found a way to separate the measles virus from other substances and grow it in living cells.(37) In 1960, Enders' vaccine was tested, and in 1963 both a live-virus shot and an inactivated vaccine were licensed. By the mid-1960s, several measles vaccines were available and being administered to millions of young children in the U.S. However, in 1967 the inactivated vaccine was removed from the market because it did not provide long-term immunity and was causing "atypical" measles.(38) By the early 1970s, Canada and other countries had begun nationwide measles vaccination campaigns.(39,40)
How safe is the measles vaccine?
The measles vaccine has a long history of causing serious adverse reactions. The pharmaceutical company responsible for producing the measles vaccine publishes an extensive list of ailments known to have occurred following the shot. Severe afflictions affecting nearly every body system -- blood, lymphatic, digestive, cardiovascular, immune, nervous, respiratory, and sensory -- have been linked to this "preventive" inoculation. These include: encephalitis, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, febrile and afebrile convulsions, seizures, ataxia, ocular palsies, anaphylaxis, angioneurotic edema, bronchial spasms, panniculitis, vasculitis, atypical measles, thrombocytopenia, lymphadenopathy, leukocytosis, pneumonitis, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, erythema multiforme, urticaria, deafness, otitis media, retinitis, optic neuritis, rash, fever, dizziness, headache, and death (Figure 3).(41)
The manufacturer also warns that the measles vaccine "has not been evaluated for carcinogenic or mutagenic potential" and "it is...not known whether [it] can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman or can affect reproductive capacity." Thus, "it would be prudent to assume that the vaccine strain of virus is...capable of inducing adverse fetal effects." Also, "caution should be exercised when...administered to a nursing woman."(42)
The most up-to-date information
on the measles (and MMR) vaccine
may be found in the book:
Vaccine Safety Manual