The recent outbreak of measles is a hot topic—and for good reason. You may have heard that there has been an increase in the number of cases of measles reported in Canada, and there is worry about that because of how easily it can spread to others.
Most recently in Canada, on April 4th there were 11 new cases of measles confirmed in Metro Vancouver from a flight that arrived from China.
What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the virus paramyxovirus. Infected people transmit the disease via nasal fluid or saliva, and can easily spread it through the air by sneezing, coughing, and breathing. The virus infects the respiratory system, causing a number of symptoms, including high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, blue-white spots on the inside of the mouth, full-body rash, and persistent cough. Individuals with measles can, in some cases, get pneumonia (a lung infection with severe breathing complications) or, more rarely, encephalitis (a serious brain infection), and can even die from the disease if complications are ignored.
Is there a treatment for measles?
There is no specific pharmaceutical medicine that will kill off measles once someone has developed it—antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections. If you suspect that you or someone you know has measles, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor for proper diagnosis and guidance, as soon as possible.
How can I prevent measles?
Measles is a preventable disease. There are several steps you can take to help stop the spread of measles, such as washing your hands regularly, disposing of used tissues, and avoiding sharing utensils or drinks, as well as getting the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. There is much debate about the vaccine, especially with California’s recent proposed bill to make the vaccine mandatory. Regardless, successfully fighting off the measles virus (or any other pathogens for that matter), requires a healthy immune system.
Nutrients from A to Zinc are provided by nature to help support the immune system. Vitamin A and its precursor beta-carotene are important for the production of T-cells—cells that are designed to scan the body for infections and cellular abnormalities. Smart cells! Beta-carotene is easily identified in fruits and vegetables by its bright colours—dark green, orange, yellow, and red—so you’ll see it in carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, bell peppers, and cantaloupe. Vitamin A is found in its highest quantities in liver, dairy, and fish.
Vitamin C is the most widely recognized vitamin for an immune kick start. Though many other animals, including your pet Fido the dog and Whiskers the cat, produce their own vitamin C, humans do not. Of course the citrus fruits—lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit—offer a rich source. So too do berries, tomatoes, papaya, bell peppers, kiwi, and peas.
Zinc is a mineral that offers anti-viral properties and is needed for the maturation of T-cells. While vegetarians can top up with pumpkin seeds, beans (kidney beans, white beans, and chickpeas, for example), nuts, and fortified cereals, meat eaters might be sure to include oysters and other meats. Do you usually pass up the dark meat of chicken or turkey for the white meat? Well, dark meat is richer in zinc, so there’s a reason to go for it.
Other foods that boost your body’s defenses include garlic, onions, mushrooms, and fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, and kombucha.
Though we often think of cold and flu season as winter-time, viruses don’t take a vacation, so keep your immune system strong year-round.
Dr. Melissa Carr is a registered Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. In practice since 2001, Dr. Carr has a passion for sharing health information. She has been a nutrition instructor and a health consultant, lecturer, and writer for 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper, Fraser Health Authority, UBC, and the David Suzuki Foundation, amongst others.