Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Oh My

April 17, 2017

Measles and mumps have been making a comeback in the US. During childhood, most children receive two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, and until recently, those diseases had mostly disappeared. But pockets of outbreaks are springing up, and Texas is experiencing its biggest outbreak in a generation.

You’ve probably heard the argument for herd immunity. It usually comes up in the context of kids and school vaccines (some kids have serious issues—cancer, heart disease—that impacts their ability to get vaccinated) and babies (who are too young for vaccines); herd immunity means having everyone around them get vaccine immunity to keep them from exposure to something that could be even more serious. But herd immunity actually supports everyone, and that failure is what’s happening now.

After 15 years, the immunity level of those vaccinated for mumps drops to about 85% effective. Herd immunity keeps the 15% whose immunity wore off protected, too. But mumps got in, and now we have an outbreak that’s mostly impacting vaccinated people. The very good news is that the vaccine is helping by keeping symptoms mild, and people aren’t getting severe inflammation or going deaf. On the other hand, some people aren’t getting symptoms at all, and with an almost month long incubation period, it will probably continue to spread.

Most at risk are people with weakened immune systems, especially those who may not have received the vaccine.

Avoid people with the mumps is the most obvious step (and some do get visual symptoms like puffy cheeks), but you can also do a number of things for your immune system. If you’re traveling to an infected area, another MMR shot can restore immunity, and you can keep your immune system up with enough sleep, a healthy diet, or some supplemental support like colloidal silver.

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