Nigerian researchers explore local cures for measles

The weather has been very hot and humid, making people more susceptible to viral infections like measles. CHUKWUMA MUANYA examines herbal cures for measles.

AS the temperature and humidity levels rise, they leave certain diseases such as meningitis and measles in their wake. Measles is in town. From Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, the story is the same; children, teenagers and even adults going down with measles. The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) says the country is in the measles transmission season.

Measles is an infectious disease caused by a virus. It can be prevented by the Mumps Measles and Rubella (MMR) immunisation. One can catch measles simply by sharing a drink with, or being coughed on by someone who has it. Measles is spread through the droplets breathed out of the nose and mouth, as well as saliva or mucus containing the virus. It takes about two weeks from the time one get measles until one start getting sick. This is called the incubation period. One can get measles at any age, but it is most common in kids aged between one and four.

The first signs of getting measles are feeling generally unwell, a runny nose, hacking cough, red eyes, high temperature, and aches and pains. Young people may find bright lights hurt their eyes too. Spots inside the mouth (known as Koplik’s spots), which are small, red, with blue or white centres, are a good way of telling if someone has measles. These appear just before the rash does.

The rash usually starts on the head and neck, and spreads to the rest of the body. It begins as small red spots, but these join to make patches. The patches can flow into one another and completely cover the skin. The rash lasts for about six days.

Treatment for measles generally consists of only supportive care, with particular attention to maintaining good hydration, especially in the developing world.

Recently, however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also recommended that vitamin A supplementation be given with measles vaccination in the developing world. The impetus behind this recommendation stems from the fact that a precipitous decrease occurs in vitamin A levels, which may already be low in children who are malnourished. By giving a bolus of vitamin A with the vaccine, the WHO hopes to attenuate some of the complications (example blindness) associated with vitamin A deficiency. Antibiotics are indicated with diagnosed or suspected secondary bacterial infection but are not empirically indicated.

WHO also recommends that infected individuals or those suspected to have infection with the live measles virus should be quarantined until they are no longer contagious to prevent spread of the disease to other non-immunized individuals.

Vitamin A supplementation has been recommended in developing nations because of the higher rate of blindness following measles infection in malnourished individuals.

Also, local plants have been successfully used to treat measles in the country. The plants include: Bambusa vulgaris; Aframomum melegueta (grains of paradise, guinea grains or alligator pepper, ehin-edo in Edo, ose oji in Igbo, erhie in Urhobo, ata-ire in Yoruba); Elytraria marginata (ewe eso in Yoruba); Peperomia pellucida; Vernonia amygdalina (bitter leaf in English, oriwo in Edo, chusar doki in Hausa, atidot in Ibibio, onugbu in Igbo, ityuna in Tiv, and ewuro in Yoruba).

Others are: Momordica charantia (African cucumber/ Balsam pear, daddagu in Hausa, iliahia in Igala, kakayi in Igbo or ejirin weeri in Yoruba); Newbouldia laevis (fertility plant or tree of life, ogirishi in Igbo, akoko in Yoruba, ukhimi in Esan); and Ocimum gratissimum (scent leaf, sweet basil, efinrin ajase in Yoruba, ebavbokho in Bini, aai doya ta gida in Hausa, and nchuanwu in Igbo.

Indeed, studies conducted in laboratories around the world have shown that traditional medicinal plants provide a rich source of antiviral activities.

Researchers at the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, have studied the use of medicinal plants for the treatment of measles in Nigeria.

M. A. Sonibare, J. O. Moody, and E. O. Adesanya have conducted an ethnobotanical survey of three Local Government areas of the Ijebu area of Ogun State in southwest Nigeria for plants used in the treatment of measles.

According to the study published last year in Journal of Ethnopharmacology, unstructured interviews were conducted among both urban and rural dwellers of three major groups of Ijebu people inhabiting the area (Ijebu North, Ijebu northeast and Ijebu Ode Local Governments).

A total of 20 respondents comprising by herbalists, herb sellers and the elderly, who have privileged information on the plants used in the treatment of measles among children were encountered during the survey. In all, 23 plant species belonging to 18 Angiosperm families were said to possess curative properties for the cure of measles among the local populace. Amongst the most frequently used plants are Elytraria marginata, Peperomia pellucida, Vernonia amygdalina, Momordica charantia, Newbouldia laevis, and Ocimum gratissimum.

The most frequently mentioned family is Cucurbitaceae. The mode of preparation and recommended dosages are enumerated in this paper. The results of the study call for an urgent need of the introduction of a strategy for the conservation of indigenous medicinal plants in the area.

Nigerian researchers have also assessed the effectiveness of Bambusa vulgaris (bamboo) and Aframomum melegueta (alligator pepper) against three human viruses namely: measles, yellow fever and polio.

The study was carried out by scientists from the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, University of Ado-Ekiti, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. The study was documented in the July 2009 edition of the African Journal of Plant Science.

Using alcoholic extracts of these plants, the scientists found that B. vulgaris can help in the prevention of measles while A. melegueta would work both for measles and yellow fever viruses.

In carrying out the study, the scientists collected the leaves of these plants, dried and powdered them before going on to soak them in 80 per cent ethanol for five days. These were then filtered and the ethanol evaporated off to produce dried extracts of the plant. The extracts were then tried on micro-organisms that cause measles, yellow fever and polio.

According to the study, “the outcome of the antiviral screenings of A. melegueta and B. vulgaris was impressive as the extracts possess activity against two of the viruses which were tested; measles and yellow fever.”

They declared that it was interesting to attempt to correlate the traditional applications of the plant extracts with the micro-organisms that caused measles and yellow fever. It was declared that the potency of these plants in the treatment of yellow fever and measles most probably was due to the phytochemicals, group of chemical substances, in the plants. Such phytochemicals include tannin, phenolic compounds, saponins and flavonoids. These chemical substances are known to activate the white blood cells of the body to fight disease causing germs and at the same time prevent these germs developing resistance and multiplying in number. Based on their finding, they recommended that application of extracts from these plants could help in the treatment of measles and yellow fever infections.

Previous studies had shown that the rhizome, leaves, fruits and seeds of alligator pepper could be used to cure worms, small pox, chicken pox, catarrh, congested chest, fractures, hypertension and cholera.

The researchers indicate that the fruits and seeds are commonly used as an ingredient of many local herbal preparations. According to The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa by H. M. Burkill, “the fruits of alligator pepper are usually used as stimulants, carminatives and in vermifuge, especially among the Ijaws. The powdered rhizome with table salt is specially given as vermifuge for round worms. The decoction of the leaves together with the leaves of Momordica charantia and Sorghum arundinaceum cereal in local dry gin (alcohol) is recommended to be taken one dose daily against cholera.

“The decoction of the leaves is used for small pox and chicken pox. When the decoction of the leaves is mixed with leaves of lime, lemon grass and mango it is used as remedy for catarrh while the steam from the decoction is inhaled for congested chest.”

Burkill reported that Peperomia pellucida (cow-foot) is used as medicine in diarrhoea, dysentery; naso-pharyngeal affections; paralysis, epilepsy, convulsions, spasm; pulmonary troubles; skin, mucosae; tumours, cancers.

Momordica charantia of Cucurbitaceae family is used for malaria, fever, as laxative, for diarrhoea, high blood pressure, dysentery, and gonorrhoea.

The leaves of smooth Newbouldia laevis are squeezed and the extract use to treat eye problems. Roots, barks and leaves are used during childbirth, constipation and on septic wounds. Decoction of the leaves is used to treat sore eye, young fresh leaves are used to cure eye inflammation and redness and the leaves are used for the treatment of ear pain. The leaves are squeezed and the juice from it is dropped into the eye and the young fresh leaves are crushed in little amount of water and the extract is dropped into the eye to cure eye inflammation and redness and the leaves are heated and became weak and squeezed. The juice from it is dropped into the ear against ear pain; one drop, twice daily.

Ocimum gratissimum (scent leaf) leaves are used locally for soup. It is also used to treat cases of stomach upset and diarrhea. The scent leaf plant is considered digestive, tonic, and stimulant. The plant is considered carminative and aphrodisiac and used to treat diseases of the brain, heart, liver and spleen, to relief griping and piles. A decoction of the leaves is considered a useful remedy for gonorrhoea and for seminal weakness.

Peperomia pellucida leaves extracts are a natural alternative for commonly used anti-biotics like Ciprofloxacin, Norfloxacin, Roxithromycin and Penicillin derivatives. Peperomia pellucida leaves extracts are reportedly devoid of the usual side effects associated with conventional anti-biotics like gastric irritation and resistance. Peperomia pellucida leaves extracts are successfully used to treat measles.

“Boil 50 grams of Peperomia pellucida aerial shoots in 250 ml of water for 30 minutes. Strain and drink the Peperomia pellucida aerial shoot extracts twice daily for week. The symptoms of infectious condition associated with measles is reduced in a week and complete relief is afforded using Peperomia pellucida aerial shoot extracts.

No specific precaution needs to be followed while using this treatment.”