Practical Management of Measles with Chinese Herbal Medicine

Practical Management of Measles with Chinese Herbal Medicine

This purpose of this blog is not to debate or take a stance in a pro or anti-vaccination stance. Vaccines can protect many and vaccine injury is real. Its purpose, simply, is to outline the range of practical strategies Chinese Medicine offers if you or your child contracts measles. None of the suggestions outlined below should be considered a substitute for Western medical care.

Recently, there’s been a terrifying outbreak of measles. While some of the patients who have contracted it were not vaccinated, many were vaccinated and yet were not fully immune to the virus.

Measles is highly contagious. It is so contagious that almost all susceptible people exposed to it will contract it. Because it is transmitted through the air (where it can linger for hours), you don’t even need to touch a person with measles to contract it. Further, it’s most contagious during the incubation period- before symptoms begin.

For many, measles will be an uncomfortable, but not a life-threatening illness. At its onset, it resembles a bad cold or upper respiratory infection. Symptoms include body aches, fever, conjunctivitis, fatigue, and poor appetite. After 2-4 days an itchy rash, usually beginning on the head and them moving down the body. The rash is red at first, then becoming brownish and blanches upon pressure. There may be swollen glands. The rash subsides on its own after about a week. Measles runs its full course in about 10 days.

Afterward, there will be fatigue. It’s important at this time to allow time for convalescence. Fortunately for most people, they will then have life-long immunity to measles.

How does Chinese Medicine help?

Chinese medicine is at least 2000 years old. It endures because it works. It offers numerous practical tools for dealing with a wide range of chronic and acute conditions. Most people don’t think to call their acupuncturist for management of acute infections, but when it comes to managing colds, flu and other infectious diseases, Chinese medicine is nearly peerless in the range of tools we have to manage these patients. Why? Because it had to. People have always gotten get sick and they need effective medicine.

Students of Chinese medicine are taught that there are three main categories of disease: External; which refers to diseases that are caused by the environment and present in the myriad ways; Internal; which refers to imbalances caused by emotional stress and Neither internal nor external; this refers to poor diet and lifestyle choices and also includes the idea of epidemics (疫), meaning there is a pathogen that affects and presents in everyone exactly the same way. Therefore, Measles is categorized as an epidemic disease in Chinese medicine.

The basis of Chinese Herbal medicine is the Han Dynasty text The Shang Han Lun-Treatise on Cold Damage which discusses, with enormous detail, the progression of catching a cold to chronic degenerative diseases[i]. Throughout history, these theories evolved and adapted, culminating in the Qing Dynasty Text: Wen Bing XueWarm Disease Theory, which was focused on the progression and treatment of epidemic diseases.

These texts bookend several others that specifically focus on one disease: Dou Zhen Pox. Between the Song and Ming dynasties, I was able to identify six or seven texts[i]that discuss this topic. Further, management of measles is discussed throughout history.

When I searched for terms with measles I found, among others- some of the following: 

  • measles toxin [má dú]
  • measles [má zhěn]
  • measles pneumonia [má zhěn xiàn fèi]
  • measles pneumonia [má zhěn bì fèi]
  • ①rash of measles ②filthy-attack disease [shā]
  • sore throat in measles [má zhěn hóu tòng]
  • inhibited eruption of measles papules [má zhěn fā bù chàng]
  • non-eruption of measles [má zhěn bù tòu]

In Traditional Chinese medicine theory, measles, mumps, or chicken pox are believed to be caused by fetal toxins, which are passed to the baby at conception or developed in the womb during gestation. TCM theorizes that these toxins are dormant until the child is challenged by an external pathogen.

The toxins are then expressed to the surface of the body and present as a rash or blisters. In TCM, fully expressing these rashes is important to ensure full recovery and immunity. There are specific herbs and formulas to hasten the expression of rashes and measles. Based on this, when the rashes are fully expressed and cleared, and the child recovers fully, they will no longer have these fetal toxins within their system.

Measles presents as a pattern of heat, so the herbs and formulas we use are generally cooling. Many have demonstrated clear antiviral properties. One of the most important formulas for measles is called Shēng Má Gĕ Gēn TāngCimicifuga and Pueraria Decoction. It’s a classical Chinese formula used to vent rashes: It’s indicated for the treatment of early-stage measles where the rash is not fully expressed. Other symptoms include headache, body aches, sneezing, coughing, red eyes, tearing and thirst. The idea of rashes is not limited to measles. The formula might also be used for chicken-pox, herpes zoster and herpes simplex. In my book TCM Case studies: Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat disorders, Shēng Má Gĕ Gēn Tāng was used in some cases of sinusitis.

Shēng Má Gĕ Gēn Tāng

Cimicifuga and Pueraria Decoction.

Sheng Ma Radix cimicifuga

Ge Gen Radix Puerariae

Chi Shao Radix Paeoniae Rubra

Zhi Gan Cao Rx et Rh Glycyrrhizae Prep cum Melle

But this isn’t the only effective formula we have at our disposal. We have the ability to target and manage a wide range of presentations.

Let’s take a look at the symptoms:

Fever and Sore Throat

Fever is not an illness per se: it reflects a battle between a persons’ immunity and a pathogen. For high fevers, we choose cooling and dispersing formulas. For the early stages (the first day) we might choose Yin Qiao SanLonicera and Forsythia Powder. In addition to the primary heat clearing herbs, the formula includes several herbs that are specific for the throat. I’ve italicized them below. Yin Qiao San treats early stage fevers, mild chills body aches and sore throat.

Fl. Lonicera— Jin Yin Hua

Fr. Forsythiae— Lian Qiao

Hb. Menthae— Bo He

Sp. Schizonepetae— Jing Jie Sui

Sm Sojae Prep.— Dan Dou Chi

Fr. Arctii— Niu Bang Zi

Rx. Platycodi— Jie Geng

Rx. Glycyrrhizae— Gan Cao

Hb. Lophatheri— Dan Zhu Ye

Rz. Phragmitis— Lu Gen

Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin Universal Salvation Toxin-Dispersing Beverage is a large heat clearing formula. When we see the word Toxin, it always indicates that the condition is severe. Here, the presentation is strong fever and chills, redness, swelling and burning pain of the face and head and thirst. It’s commonly encountered in children. We might use this formula for parotitis, tonsillitis or severe conjunctivitis.

Huang Qin(Radix Scutellariae), chao(dry-fried) with wine

Huang Lian(Rhizoma Coptidis), chao(dry-fried) with wine

Ren Shen(Radix et Rhizoma Ginseng)

Niu Bang Zi(Fructus Arctii)
Lian Qiao(Fructus Forsythiae)

Bo He(Herba Menthae)
Jiang Can(Bombyx Batryticatus)
Xuan Shen(Radix Scrophulariae)
Ma Bo(Lasiosphaera seu Calvatia)
Ban Lan Gen(Radix Isatidis)
Jie Geng(Radix Platycodonis)
Gan Cao(Radix et Rhizoma Glycyrrhizae)

Chen Pi(Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae)

Sheng Ma(Rhizoma Cimicifugae)
Chai Hu(Radix Bupleuri)


This symptom doesn’t have to be treated separately, as it can be addressed with the formulas above. We do think that a cool compress of mint tea bags is a simple and safe strategy to help the eyes feel more comfortable.


We use a range of formulas for coughs. A Chinese medicine practitioner will ask if the cough is wet or dry. What color the phlegm is and what the cough sounds like to treat it correctly. For a phlegmy cough, we might use the classical formula Qing Qi Hua Tan Tang Qi-Clearing Phlegm-Transforming Pill.

For a dryer cough, we might use a moistening formula such as Sang Ju YinMulberry Chrysanthemum Beverage. In our practice, we also use several proprietary formulas that I have created. One of our favorites is Cough Cooler, which clears heat, transforms phlegm, and moistens the lungs and throat.

We also think that convalescence is critical for full recovery. Western culture truly undervalues this part of recovery. But measles is a serious illness. We offer valuable tools for this stage too. We want to feel completely healed so you or your child can get back to work and school feeling healthy. Two strategies come to mind for managing this. In the first case, you may notice that after a fever, there can be restlessness. Kids might seem a little hyper. It might be hard to settle down. Chinese medicine says that sometimes, a small amount of heat from the fever is still lingering. We can use a tiny formula with only two herbs to help clear it.

Zhi Zi Dou Chi Tang Gardenia and Fermented Soybean Decoction. I have found this simple and ancient formula to be incredibly effective.

Finally, we can use a tonic formula. One favorite for many practitioners is Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang Center-Supplementing Qi-Boosting Decoction. Sometimes, after having been sick, we “think” we’re recovered, but then we realize we actually don’t feel well. At least not yet.

Not only does this formula have an energizing and lifting up kind of energy, but a careful read of the original indications includes feeling mildly feverish that worsens with exertion. So, it’s pretty perfect for the final stage of recovery.

We hope that you and your family doesn’t have to go through this, but know that Chinese Medicine has a cabinet filled with effective tools to get through every stage. 

[i]Note to scholars; Please guys, no eye-rolling here. Yes, this is a gross oversimplification of a seminal text. This paper is for my patients. 

[i]Formulas for Pox (Dòu Zhĕn Fāng, 痘疹方) Cai Wei-fan 蔡维藩 1518 (Ming)

Teachings on the Treatment of Pox from a Family Lineage of Doctors (Dòu Zhĕn Shì Yī Xīn Fă, 痘疹世医心法) Wan Quan 万全(Style: Wan Mi 万密)

aka Teachings on Pox (Dòu Zhĕn Xīn Fă, 痘疹心法) 1568 (Ming)

Essential Teachings on the Treatment of Pox (Dòu Zhĕn Xīn Fă Yào Jué, 痘疹心法要诀)(Vol. 56-59 of Golden Mirror of the Medical Tradition) Wu Qian 吴谦(Styles: Wu LiuJie) 1742

Enlightening Treatise on Pox (Piàn Yù Doù Zhĕn, 片玉痘疹) Piàn Yù Doù Zhĕn (aka Wàn Shì Mì Chuán Piàn Yù Doù Zhĕn) 片玉痘疹(又名《万氏秘传片玉痘疹》) Wan Quan 万全(Style: Wan Mi 万密) aka Wan’s Secret Transmission of His Enlightening Treatise on Pox (Wàn Shì Mì Chuán Piàn Yù Doù Zhĕn, 万氏秘传片玉痘疹) 16th century (Ming)

Reflections of Universal Love: The Complete Book on Pox (Bó Ài Xīn Jiàn, 博爱心鉴) aka (Dòu Zhĕn Bó Ài Xīn Jiàn, 痘疹博爱心鉴) or (Dòu Zhĕn Quán Shū Bó Ài Xīn Jiàn, 痘疹全书博爱心鉴) in Chinese Bó Ài Xīn Jiàn (Dòu Zhĕn Bó Ài Xīn Jiàn) (Dòu Zhĕn Quán Shū Bó Ài Xīn Jiàn) 博爱心鉴(又名《痘疹博爱心鉴》、《痘疹全书博爱心鉴》) Wei Zhi (魏直)

Chen’s Formulas for Childhood Pox (Chén Shì Xiăo Ér Dòu Zhĕn Fāng, 陈氏小儿痘疹方) Chén Shì Xiăo Ér Dòu Zhĕn Fāng 陈氏小儿痘疹方Chen Wen-zhong陈文中(Style: Chen Wen-xiu陈文秀) 1525 (Ming)

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I have been going to see Cara for years now. I had been going for a while when I found out my son had allergies. He was about 7 years old at the time. The pediatrician wanted to put him on a few different medications. I was not comfortable with having him take all of these everyday. I took him to see Cara and he went to a series of appointments with her till we found out what triggers his allergies. He liked going to see her and would always ask when he was going back to see her again. She was so great with him! He now takes a concentrate formula that Cara prescribed for him everyday. I can always tell if he does not take his medicine. It works perfectly for him.