The measles is a viral condition, which causes a blotchy skin rash, cough, very runny nose, sore throat, fever and white spots in the mouth. The condition lasts about 7 days and begins with the runny nose and fever, then progresses to a rash which typically begins on the face and spreads to the trunk. It is very contagious as it is easily airborne1.

Measles used to be a common “rite of passage” during childhood. Since routine vaccination started in the 1970s, the condition has become rarer, less than 600 cases are typically reported each year in the United States2. The 30 cases confirmed recently in the Portland/Vancouver area is not unusual, as pockets of the conditions being reported are common each year, especially due to international travel, which is how many cases are introduced.

The most common complication is diarrhea, followed by otitis media and then pneumonia, which is also the largest cause of death, and can be caused by the virus itself, or from a secondary bacterial pneumonia. Death occurs in about 0.01% of cases in the United States1. In the last 10 years in the US, there has been 1 confirmed death3. Vitamin A deficiency makes the risk of complication much higher, and supplementation of vitamin A in those who contract the measles can help protect against complications1.

So, should you get vaccinated? That all depends. It depends on your individual medical history, your current state of health and your genetics. No medical procedure, even vaccination, comes without some risks. This should be discussed with your physician who can take your individual health into account. Those with egg allergies, autoimmune disease, current illness or history of poor reaction to vaccines likely should not be vaccinated4. Vaccination is very needed in areas of the world where vitamin A deficiency is endemic, making complications more likely and severe. Those with compromised immune systems who may not be able to handle a viral infection may also benefit from vaccination.

It is important to remember that vaccination is not 100% effective. Nothing is 100% effective at conferring immunity except contracting and recovering from the condition itself. In fact, you can get measles from the vaccination, as it is a live vaccine. During the measles outbreak in California in 2015, of the 194 measles virus samples obtained, 73 were identified as vaccine strains (38%)5.

What if I was vaccinated, am I protected? This depends on a couple of factors including when you were last vaccinated, how many boosters you’ve had, and if you had an appropriate immune response to the vaccine. The only way to guarantee lifelong immunity is to actually acquire measles and recover from it. If you were vaccinated more than 10 years ago5, your immunity may have waned and you may now be susceptible to getting the measles as an adult, which does hit harder than having the virus as a child. If you’re a healthy adult and have a good physician who can help support your immune system through a viral condition, you may have less concern about contracting measles.

What about herd immunity? Herd immunity is a theoretical concept. Much of the calculations regarding herd immunity are based on population immunization through natural infection of the disease. If you contract the disease and survive it, you have life-long immunity, and if the rest of the “herd” also had the disease and is immune, you can create “herd immunity” which will limit the spread of the disease. The problem with herd immunity for vaccinations is that it is much more complex – now you must factor in several variables, including vaccine failure rates and waning immunity over time7.

Many cases of outbreaks have been seen in highly immunized populations. An outbreak of measles in Illinois in 1983-84 confirmed that the school had a “documented immunization level of 100 percent”. If herd immunity were accomplished simply through getting every person vaccinated, this outbreak should not have been possible5. Other similar outbreaks in highly vaccinated populations have been studied Texas in 19858, Belgium in 20049, Israel in 201710 and Pennsylvania in 200511. This seems to show that current vaccine technology is not able to achieve the ideal of herd immunity and is not a reasonable rationale for vaccine mandates for all children.

If you happened to have had wild measles as a child, this seems to have a protective effect against several cancers such as lymphatic cancers, Hodgkin’s disease and some heart problems. Some preliminary studies are also showing promise in measles protecting against ovarian cancer, myeloma and cutaneous non-Hodgkin lymphoma later in life as well12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

What if I or my child get the measles? You’re going to be sick for about 7-10 days with the symptoms described at the beginning of this article. If you’re a healthy child, your risk of complications is very low (about 1 in 10,000)1. These numbers come from pre-vaccine data, when measles cases were much more common. You should stay home to prevent the spread of the condition to others, and your condition will be reported to the department of health for monitoring purposes. As with any major viral infection, I would recommend seeing your physician at least once to get started on immune system support, vitamin A and instructions on home hydrotherapy and how to manage a fever properly. Homeopathic medicines can be especially helpful to ease the symptoms. It is most important to seek care if you have any difficulty breathing, severe fatigue/lethargy or symptoms that do not improve within a week to ensure you have not developed any complications.

If you are unable to be vaccinated and concerned about contracting the measles or other infectious conditions, you may be interested in alternative forms of conferring immunity. Please contact your physician at NW Integrative Medicine to see if this is right for you.

– Teresa True, ND


  1. Data cited on flyer
  5. Measles Outbreak among Vaccinated High School Students—Illinois. MMWR. June 22, 1984. 33(24);349-51.
  6. Target immunity levels for achieving and maintaining measles elimination, Sebastian Funk
  7. The Misunderstood Theory of Herd Immunity, references of article listed on page:
  8. Measles outbreak in a fully immunized secondary-school population. N Engl J Med. 1987 Mar 26;316(13):771-4, Gustafson TL
  9. Outbreak of mumps in a vaccinated child population: a question of vaccine failure?  Vaccine. 2004 Jul 29;22(21-22):2713-6. Vandermeulen C1
  10. Measles Outbreak in a Highly Vaccinated Population — Israel, July–August 2017, Weekly / October 26, 2018 / 67(42);1186–1188
  11. A Limited Measles Outbreak in a Highly Vaccinated US Boarding School, Lorraine F. Yeung
  12. Association of measles and mumps with cardiovascular disease: The Japan Collaborative Cohort (JACC) study, Atherosclerosis. 2015 Aug;241(2):682-6. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2015.06.026. Epub 2015 Jun 18., Kubota Y1, Iso H2, Tamakoshi A3; JACC Study Group.
  13. Febrile infectious childhood diseases in the history of cancer patients and matched controls.  Albonico HU, et al. Med Hypotheses. 1998.
  14. Do childhood diseases affect NHL and HL risk? A case-control study from northern and southern Italy…/S0145-2126(05)00466-2/abstract
  15. Risk factors for Hodgkin’s disease by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) status: prior infection by EBV and other agents
  16. Measles to the Rescue: A Review of Oncolytic Measles Virus
  17. Exposure to childhood infections and risk of Epstein‐Barr virus–defined Hodgkin’s lymphoma in women, Sally L. Glaser

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