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Measles Outbreak: Is Measles REALLY So Scary?

admin March 15, 2014

Ah, yes, here comes the fear tactics, yet again.

There’s currently an measles outbreak in New York City.  This “outbreak” consists of just 16 cases so far.  We don’t know, from the news reports, how many of these people were vaccinated and how many were not.  We do know that four have been hospitalized.  There have been no deaths and no instances of permanent disability reported.

Naturally, the unvaccinated are being blamed for the outbreak.

But hmm…we don’t know how many of these people actually were unvaccinated.  So that means, these people could all be fully or partially vaccinated.  And if that’s true…how do we blame it on the unvaccinated, exactly?

As usual, it doesn’t make any sense.  People are jumping the gun, reporting things that aren’t true (or at least aren’t known for sure) and are using it to drive fear and anger towards those who don’t vaccinate.  I am so very tired of this.  Enough with the scare tactics and bullying!

Let’s find out…is measles really so scary?

Typical Media Pronouncements — Is Measles Really So Scary?

First, you should know — I’m not here to tell that you shouldn’t vaccinate your kids.  Or that you should.  I actually trust you, as a parent, to make that call yourself.  You don’t need me (or anyone) to bully you into making a particular decision.  I trust you have a brain, that you use it, and that you know your family best.

So here are the plain facts right now:

  • 16 people have the measles in New York City
  • 7 adults, 9 children
  • We don’t know how many were vaccinated, fully or partially
  • 4 were hospitalized
  • No deaths, permanent disability, or serious complications have been reported

That’s it.  That’s all we know.  From this information, we can’t make the leap that “unvaccinated people did it.”  That’s just an easy place to go, since society hates unvaccinated people (needlessly, ridiculously).

It is true that in 2013, most of the people who got measles were unvaccinated (about 82%, according to the CDC).  But it’s also true that only around 10% were hospitalized, and no incidents of permanent disability or death were recorded (in over 150 cases).

What we know, from the actual facts, is that measles is very contagious, does seem to be more common in unvaccinated people, and is not dangerous.  “Danger” being measured by “serious complications or death” — of which there were none.

But, of course, the media, specifically the rabid pro-vaccine pushers, are not interested in facts.  They’re only interested in bullying.  And so, with no evidence, they’ve pronounced that this is the fault of the unvaccinated.  With terribly rude, negative language and no actual information, I choose to ignore them outright.

Is a Measles Really So Scary?

What we need to know now is, just how scary is measles?

We know that measles is highly contagious, so that if you are vulnerable to it (unvaccinated, vaccine has worn off, etc.) you are likely to get it, if you come across it.  But catching it doesn’t make it scary.  It’s how sick you may get, what may happen to you.  What will that look like?

Measles typically has an incubation period of 14 – 21 days.  It starts with 2 – 4 days of moderate to high fever (may be as high as 105), along with cough and runny nose.  After this, the characteristic rash begins.  The rash lasts for 5 – 6, spreading from top to bottom, then disappearing in the same order.

Complications in “some form” occur about 30% of the time.  (This is all complications, not “severe” complications as some of the recent reporting claimed.)  Here is what complications looked like (in a CDC report from 1985 – 1992):

  • 8% had diarrhea
  • 7% had ear infections
  • 6% had meninigitis
  • 0.1% had encephalitis (15% of people with this complication died, and about 25% had lasting neurological symptoms)
  • 0.2% died

So, we see that out of 1000 cases, 80 people would have diarrhea, 70 people would have ear infections, 60 people would have meninigitis, 1 would have encephalitis, and 2 would die.  The remaining 787 people would have no issues and would come through the measles just fine.  Approximately 3 out of 1000 people would have “serious” complications or death.

EDITAfter looking at statistics from recent measles outbreaks in Europe which consist of thousands of cases, it seems that the CDC has vastly overstated the risk of death.  Out of 26,000 cases in Europe, just 9 people died.  This places the risk at fewer than 1 in 2000, or over 6 times less than the CDC’s quoted statistic.

AND — According to this CDC document (skip to page 85), between 1950 and 1960, there was less than 1 death per 100,000.  The population in 1950 was around 150 million, and there were around 3 – 4 million cases per year.  So we can figure that there were around 45 deaths annually from measles, which is 0.00001%, or about 1 in 100,000.

From 2001 – 2011, there were 911 cases of measles reported.  Including 2012 and 2013, that number rises to 1153 cases.  There were no deaths during this time period.

From that, we can assume that 1 – 2 in 1000 is possibly the highest that measles deaths will reach in a developed country, with easy access to medical care.

We also know that vitamin A status has a lot to do with measles complications.  In one study, measles mortality was decreased by 62% with at least two doses of vitamin A (after the patient was admitted to the hospital with complications).  In another study, death rate was reduced from 5% to 1.6%, as well as shortening hospital stay and need for intensive care.

The point is, if you get measles, you have a 99.7% chance of pulling through just fine, with no permanent disability or death.  You have a 94% chance of not even needing to be hospitalized.  And supposing you get severe measles, high dose vitamin A supplementation is very effective in reducing mortality and severe complications.

Removing the Fear of Measles Outbreaks

Yes, I know, if you’re in that 0.3% of people who do suffer serious complications or death (or your child is), there’s probably nothing anyone can say to convince you measles isn’t terrifying.  Because in that case, it is!  Just know that it is highly unlikely that you will be “that person.”

Honestly?  There’s risk to everything.  There’s risk to getting measles.  There’s risk to getting the MMR.  There’s risk to driving your car.  Your chances of getting in a car accident are probably greater than your chances of getting seriously ill with measles.

There’s absolutely no way to remove all risk.  We can’t say, “If you do x, y, and z, then you will no longer have a risk of measles, or no longer have a risk of complications.”  It just isn’t the way that life works!  But as I said, there is risk to the vaccine too.   And the vaccine doesn’t fully remove your risk of catching measles, either.

It depends on what risk you are more comfortable taking — the vaccine, or the disease itself.  But to make that decision, you should have accurate numbers and a realistic sense of what could happen, either way.

So here it is.  The real numbers, the real risk.  Ignore the fear tactics and decide for yourself.

What do you think — is measles really so scary?  Are you tired of the bullying?

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50 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post! I really appreciate all of the level-headed, evidence-based reasoning you provide, especially in the face of so much angry hype.

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  2. Well written and thank you! The only piece of information I would add is to compare risks – can you share the risk of injury from the MMR vaccine. That way people can see these are my chances of getting the measles and this is my chance of having a vaccine injury from the MMR. I did this calculation for myself, but I don’t want to influence your data or calculations. I know it is asking a lot for that additional piece of the puzzle. But many news sites report that the risk for side effects from the vaccine are LOW. Well what is low? Is it lower than the risk for getting the measles. I put my risk numbers as X in one million and calculated them from the US Department of Health and Human Services. They report the numbers for injury and death from the MMR over a range of years so I just took an average. The risks are low, but that means we shouldn’t be freaking out about an epidemic. Thanks again for sharing!

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  3. Thanks for a great post to counter the ridiculous hysteria over anti-vax parents. 🙂 I will be sharing this with my mommy friends!

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  4. What a great article. I love how you break down the facts. I think it’s terrible how the media constantly tries to make the unvaccinated looked like the culprits, when in reality it can also be the vaccinated as well. The media cherry picks facts in order to get their agenda across, which is to bully the non-vaccinating parents into submission. And then there are the brainwashed people who also bully their known non-vaccinating friends. It’s terrible and completely uncalled for.
    And the #1 argument that bothers me the most that the pro-vaxers us is that we have to think of the poor babies and children who are either too young or have health issues that can’t receive a vaccine. HELLO…the MMR, chickenpox, whooping cough and flu mist vaccines all contain live viruses, which shed from days to weeks the very virus that they have been vaccinated against. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black for spreading diseases.
    Thanks for writing such great posts. I love when you break it down.

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  5. Are you kidding me? What a horrible thing to do, saying “how dangerous is measles, really?”

    I understand that you want people to make their own choice but the only facts you’ve brought to the table in this article are about what the measles is capable of doing, absolutely nothing about the vaccine. The measles is an entirely unpleasant disease and it completely preventable. If it’s not such a big deal then please explain to me why the United States has taken steps to eradicate it over so many years.

    Why even risk death?? The attitude of “oh it hasn’t really happened in years so how could it happen to me or my child?” is one of the most fallacial assertions I’ve heard in a long time.

    If you’re reading this post-article, please understand that I am pro-vaccine, but I am writing this to let you know that if you do choose to not vaccinate your children then you absolutely must NOT do it because the measles “isn’t so bad.”

    Look up better facts for yourself about possible dangers of the vaccine, if there are any, and preferably find a website that isn’t run by modern moms and doesn’t let just anybody contribute. Find a .gov source, find a .edu source. Please, if you’re going to swim against the tide of your responsibility to keep society safe and this disease eradicated, do it with harder evidence.

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  6. Thanks for your post. Of course, you homeschool so its not like your kids sit in a classroom, which is a notorious incubator for illness. And, while your kids may or may not (I suspect not) why protect them from a VERY uncomfortable illness. In fact, why give them any kind of medicine when they’re sick. Why use seat belts, car seats, helmets while riding a bicycle. Now, I’m sure you’ll claim I’m catastrophising, making inexact analogies. That’s all fine and you’re entitled to your opinion. But you’re NOT entitled to bring your unvaccinated kids around other kids and increase the chance that they get sick, so keep your kids at home!

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  7. Thank you so much for this post! I did the same research myself when deciding whether or not to vaccinate my son, and had the same findings: that my son was at a significantly higher risk of having an adverse reaction to a vaccine than he was at risk for even contracting, let alone suffering complications from, the disease it was designed to prevent. I’m so sick of people freaking out over this decision, like I’m sentencing my child to death by refusing to stick a needle in his arm, when all they do is listen to the fear-mongering promoted on any given media source instead of actually doing any research for themselves. If you do the research and decide vaccines are the safer way to go, good for you. But I did the research (and strictly through the CDC’s website, not even through any anti-vaccine venues) and the MATH and STATISTICS that were reported by the CDC (which even inflates their numbers to compensate for poor reporting) indicate that my son is safer remaining unvaccinated and on a healthy diet than he is having a vaccine injected in his arm, especially when I suffered a complication from a vaccine which resulted in immediate hospitalization. We don’t live in a part of the world that faces disease in the water we drink, or where we don’t have access to basic healthcare. Use your brains, live healthy, and stop relying on medication and doctors to give you a “cover-all” (which a vaccine is not) for living an unhealthy lifestyle.

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  8. Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I wish more parents would take the time to research and learn not just about the immediate side effects of vaccines, but also the ones that are now being linked to vaccines and show up delayed. How about gut health and vaccines? Many, many children these days do not have healthy guts and getting vaccinated in that situation can add to complications immediately and down the road. I would love to see more parents focusing on building their children’s immune systems and feeding them a healthy, whole foods diet.

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  9. When forced, I tell people I don’t vaccinate for benign diseases nor those associated with bad outcomes (high risk). Specifically I did vaccinate for polio (dead) and tetanus. When forced, I say it’s because I don’t like to mess with the delicate immune system about which we know little. Someone recently said “Really, you think doctors don’t know about the immune system?” Well, last week my son with a thyroid condition was seeing his endocrinologist and because I’d been reading many books on Graves disease I asked him if he would check my son’s magnesium, D, B12 and iron levels. He said he would not because he wouldn’t know what to do with the results. Well, I had them done myself, he was EXTREMELY low on all, not even in the ranges, and so, even without a medical degree, I’ve been supplementing to bring the levels up. Yep, I figured that out all by myself! Just saying, there’s MUCH that doctors don’t know about.

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  10. This article makes me feel bullied.

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  11. My baby cousin got the measles (lives in California) from the vaccine. She got the disease from the very thing meant to “protect” her from said disease. I know we all know this can happen. But my point is… my vaccinated cousin got the measles from the shot. It’s not the fault of the unvaxed in her case for sure.

    Great post, btw. 🙂

    Reply

  12. Dear Kate:
    I will not argue any science here; this is clearly a biased website, and I respect your right to be such. However, I would like to point out that, when you speak of “scare tactics,” you are employing the EXACT SAME THING.
    Additionally, when you say “I’m not telling you whether or not to vaccinate your children,” of COURSE you are telling the reader NOT to vaccinate.
    Look, unlike you, I don’t purport to being a writer. When you post your musings all over the internet, however, please try to be a little more honest.

    Reply

  13. I find it odd that people keep assuming that Kate has no knowledge about anything and is just randomly coming up with an opinion that is based on nothing. Why would you assume she doesn’t know what she’s talking about? I don’t know Kate “in real life” but she seems like an intelligent person who is not uninformed. I myself have been researching these topics over the last few years and have found Kate’s words to be true. I have looked into multiple reliable sources and I know several other people who have come up with the same information. We (the people who don’t vax) might not be doctors but we are not uninformed. We are the ones who are doing the research ourselves rather than just blindly swallowing what other people tell us. No, being a mom or a blogger doesn’t make us smart, doing the research does. Being a mom means I care enough about my child to understand everything going into his body. The bullies only bully because that’s the only weapon they have since they themselves probably haven’t done all the research that we have.

    Reply

  14. […] Still fear the measles? Read this […]

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  15. Thank you Kate, for being a great source of information, and for not being afraid to stand up for what we know to be truth. It takes courage to take the brunt of attacks & insults from the small minded trolls out there that haven’t taken the time to try to see both sides of the vaccination controversy. I am not anti vaccine, I understand the science and I believe there is a place for vaccines. However I do believe the way it is handled in our country isn’t healthy for our children, and the vaccine industry is more concerned with profits than our children’s health. The HPV vaccine is an excellent example. (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/16/hpv-vaccine-effectiveness.aspx) There are just way too many injured from the routine vaccine schedule, to believe it’s safer than actually getting a childhood disease like measles or chicken pox. And by the way I am unvaccinated, have had both measles and chicken pox, and I have no lasting injury or problems from it. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember having either disease. It happened when I was a kid and was not a big ordeal, my mom just kept me home and I got over it.
    By the way I have worked in the pharmacy industry for almost 20yrs and I know how vaccines work. I have heard all the pro vaccine information and read the literature and reports. As I said I am not against vaccines altogether.
    Anyway thank you for being brave, educating us with your research, and speaking truth.

    Reply

  16. I am surprised this question has not been asked..but what steps specifically can you take to either prevent measles (even possible?) or if you have them to come through with the best outcome?
    I was just wondering if elderberry syrup would help at all? Thoughts?
    Thanks for the vitamin A info. BTW! Did not know that.

    Reply

  17. […] a very uncomfortable week or two, but were not dangerous for healthy children.  Read more about measles, a risk-benefit analysis,  and pertussis.  It’s not to say that there aren’t a small […]

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  18. But let’s not forget that with the vaccine you do not have lifetime immunity as you do with actually having measles (and mumps and chicken pox and pertussis)

    And if you get measles as an adult it can be REALLY bad.

    Reply

  19. […] If you get measles, you have a 99.7% chance of pulling through just fine. Want to read more in depth? Check out “Is Measles REALLY So Scary?” […]

    Reply

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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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