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Measles

 

Star Foods for measles: apple, apricot, barley, broccoli, brown rice, cabbage, cantaloupe melon, carrot, chickpea, kale, kiwi fruit, lentils, mango, oats, orange, poultry, prawn, pumpkin and pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, sweet potato, squash, watermelon

Measles is a highly contagious air-borne viral infection that passes from one child to another through coughing and sneezing. Children are currently vaccinated against measles at around 15 months old, often along with rubella and mumps. This combined vaccination is known as the MMR and is highly controversial due to the feared link with autism and a bowel disorder. As a result, some parents have chosen not to give their children the vaccination and, in places, take up is at an all-time low. Health authorities warn that a measles epidemic could occur if children are not vaccinated against this childhood disease. Vaccinations are not always 100 per cent effective, however, and regardless of whether or not you have vaccinated your child against measles, it is important to know how to protect them from the virus and how to help boost their defences should they contract it.

Measles begins with a cold and cough, fever, sore and itchy eyes and the appearance of small red spots with a white centre on the inside of the mouth. These are called Koplik's spots and are the symptom that differentiates measles from a general viral infection. Three to five days later the measles rash appears. It is browny-pink in colour and starts around the ears, face and neck before spreading to the rest of the body. It is usually only mildly itchy and lasts for four to seven days before fading away. Complications that can arise from measles include ear infections, pneumonia, eye problems and, in rare cases, encephalitis. A child with measles will feel very ill. They should be kept in bed and will often be more comfortable in a dimly lit room as their eyes may become sensitive to bright lights.

Medicinal foods for measles
Although a special diet won't be able to cure measles, certain important nutrients can have a huge impact on the disease. Measles depletes the stores of vitamin A in your child's body. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver. Deficiency symptoms of vitamin A include poor night vision and inflammation of the eyes, frequent colds and infections, mouth ulcers, dry skin, diarrhoea and dandruff. Research in developing countries, where nutrition is often poor and measles is still a serious killer, has shown that many deaths from measles could be prevented by administering a simple vitamin A supplement. Death from measles is extremely rare in developed, well-nourished countries but diet still has a crucial role to play in not only the prevention but also the treatment of this disease.

Vitamin A is found in both plant- and animal-based foods. The animal form of vitamin A, retinol, is found in abundance in full-fat dairy products, eggs, oily fish and liver. However, none of these foods are ideal to give to a sick child. Moreover, she simply will not feel like eating any of the above while she is ill. The best way to boost your child's intake of vitamin A is to offer her foods and drinks that are rich in the plant-based form of vitamin A, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by your child's body as and when it needs it. It is found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, such as apricot, carrot, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe melon, watermelon, sweet potato, mango, broccoli, cabbage, kale and other green leafy vegetables.

Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant, which means that it helps to boost your child's immune system generally by fighting the harmful free radicals that cause disease. This is especially important when the body is under attack from a strong viral infection such as measles. Foods rich in beta-carotene are often also rich in vitamin C, another important antioxidant vitamin that will help your child to fight the infection. Good vitamin C sources are citrus fruits, peppers, berries, blackcurrants, parsley, broccoli, papaya, mango and apple.

Zinc is another nutrient with a role to play in both the prevention and treatment of this disease. It helps to mobilize stores of vitamin A from the liver as well as supporting the growth and development of white blood cells, the immune-army stalwarts that help protect your child from infection. You can now get suckable zinc lozenges for children from health food shops. Foods rich in zinc include shellfish, poultry, game, lean red meat, pulses, seeds, nuts and wholegrains.

While your child is in the initial stages of measles, offer her diluted fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Remember that children with a fever can become rapidly dehydrated, so it is important to provide plenty of enticing fluids. Homemade fruit juice ice pops can be comforting, as can vitamin- and mineral-packed soups and broths. Avoid sugary, fatty foods that impede the healing process, and dairy products, which may increase the risk of developing ear infections. As they feel better, introduce some vitamin A-rich foods, such as boiled eggs with wholemeal toast soldiers and diluted fresh orange juice.

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Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.

 
 
 

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